Teaching History

How India and China explain the Holocaust to school kids

A UN report finds that in Asia, the genocide is placed in the context of local events and political developments.

Indian school history textbooks don’t use the word “Holocaust” while teaching world history and the Second World War. In one instance, where a government-prescribed textbook was published during the Bharatiya Janata Party’s previous reign at the Centre, even the details of the genocide are completely glossed over.

These revelations were made in a study titled International Status of Education About the Holocaust, conducted by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and the George Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research. The study aimed to compare how the Holocaust is taught in countries around the world and find out whether the dissemination of information about the Holocaust is fragmented or distorted in any way to serve political ends.

In surveying five prescribed textbooks in India, the study found that none of them makes a mention of the term “Holocaust” or its Hebrew equivalent “Shoah”. The Holocaust, which is broadly defined as the killing of millions of Jews and other minority groups by the Nazis during World War II, is only mentioned as part of several events that occurred during the war.

The five textbooks, published between 1995 and 2006, show much disparity in descriptions of the Holocaust and the treatment of the Second World War. Most of the lessons in these textbooks attempt to relate the events of the war to local happenings in India. Some refer to Mahatma Gandhi’s letters to Adolf Hitler appealing for peace while others imply comparisons between the German persecution of coloured people with colonialism in India.

Parallels with Indian struggle

The three books, published in 1995 and 2005, were under the aegis of governments in which the Left parties had a considerable say. In this context, the report said, the Holocaust itself was overshadowed by the events of the war and the anti-fascist resistance which reflects a parallel to the Indian freedom struggle.

On the other hand, one textbook published in 2002 when the BJP government was in power at the Centre totally disregarded the Holocaust. This, the study’s authors said, “may be ascribed to the fact that its authors appear to sympathise with the nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and with its radical nationalism and the goal of territorial unity akin to that of the National Socialists [in Germany].”

However, the textbooks that do cover the events of the war and the Holocaust do so in great detail, even if they don’t use the actual word. Some go as far back as the influence of the ideas of Herbert Spencer and Charles Darwin in the 19th centrury on racial ideology. Others go into the Nuremberg trials besides the creation of museums, memoirs and films.

Oblique mentions of gassing

Similiar descriptions of the World War II and its outcomes in Chinese textbooks are described in relation to happenings in China, the report said. Chinese textbooks refer to the Holocaust as genocide and then compare it to the Japanese invasion of China in 1937. The texts treat the massacre of Chinese civilians by Japanese troops in Nanjing with more historical significance than the Holocaust.

Teaching of the Second World War in Chinese schools focuses on the political and military developments before and during the war. It deals with the “what” and “how” like the rise of Hitler and the Nazis, the growth of anti-Semitism, and the effects of German fascism. The books mention the social exclusion and humiliation of Jews, as well as the concentration camps, medical experimentation and gassing but in an oblique way. The only event covered in some detail is when Jewish refugees arrived in Shanghai in 1938.

Textbooks in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan all make only oblique references to the Holocaust, with the attention on this period in world history falling on the events of the war. Schoolbooks in Nepal completely ignore the Holocaust.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

Play

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.