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Lessons for Educators


3. Human rights and Holocaust distortion

Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. … Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.

Eleanor Roosevelt

Learning Objectives

  • To develop a critical understanding of the link between Holocaust distortion and human rights violations
  • To develop empathy with different groups of people impacted by Holocaust distortion
  • To enhance commitment for promoting respect for human rights

Learning Activities

  1. Holocaust Distortion and Human Rights
  2. Holocaust Distortion and the Broader Context of Disinformation and Intolerance
  3. Further Resources

Suggestions for Trainers

The activities proposed in this unit aim to engage participants in deeper reflections about the ways in which Holocaust distortion conflicts with human rights and intertwines with other phenomena such as hate speech, fake news and anti-democratic propaganda. Understanding Holocaust distortion in connection with broader aspects of society leads to acknowledging that it is not a side issue (which affects only certain individuals or should be addressed only by certain entities), but a significant problem in our societies. Holocaust distortion impacts not only the way in which we understand the past, but also the way in which we shape the present and the future. This realization may lead, in turn, to recognizing the responsibility of each individual in countering it, in order to mitigate its short- and long-term impact upon human rights values and democratic societies.

The first activity engages the participants in a process of reflection upon the ways in which Holocaust distortion conflicts with the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Afterwards, the participants are engaged in a critical thinking process that asks them to express their agreement/disagreement with a few statements. When the participants offer their arguments, a symbolic microphone (a pen, for example) can be used, in order to avoid everyone speaking at the same time.

As this activity focuses on constructive disagreements and stimulating reflections, the trainers should refrain from taking positions or commenting on the statements during this part. During the debriefing, the trainers can clarify statements and offer further information, while also addressing some of the opinions expressed, in order to bring them up for further discussion. However, this does not mean that all opinions should be tolerated. Any manifestation of hate speech or opinion that goes against human rights values should be addressed and deconstructed. For this reason, it is important to create a safe learning space from the beginning of the training, a space in which the participants feel free to express themselves but are also open to being challenged.

There are countless resources that the trainers can consult for further learning about human rights, and human rights education, in order to be better prepared to conduct these activities.

For example:

Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – What are Human Rights? Human Rights – Handbook for Parliamentarians No 26

Council of Europe – Compass: Manual for Human Rights Education with Young People

UNESCO – The Legitimate Limits to Freedom of Expression: the Three-Part Test, available in different languages.

In the second activity, the focus is on the connection between Holocaust distortion, fake news, hate speech and anti-democratic propaganda, as well as on the long-term impact of Holocaust distortion upon the society. This activity employs a method called “silent discussion,” which offers participants the opportunity to share their thoughts and opinions in writing. As the participants work around four tables, it is important to make sure that they do not all start at the same table and that it is clear for them that they are not allowed to speak. The trainers observe the dynamic during the activity to make sure everyone is engaged and to notice when most people stop writing/reading. This is a sign that it is time to move to debriefing. Background music can be played during the silent discussion, at low volume and preferably only instrumental, as it might be difficult for some people to focus otherwise.

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