According to the NY Times, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has mandated that all 5th graders in France will learn the life story of a French child murdered in the Nazi Holocaust of WW II.
“Nothing is more moving, for a child, than the story of a child his own age, who has the same games, the same joys and the same hopes as he, but who, in the dawn of the 1940s, had the bad fortune to be defined as a Jew,” Mr. Sarkozy said.
Despite the nonsense with Mr. Sarkozy’s quick divorce and re-marriage, I’m favorably impressed with the man. I particularly like this idea – nothing is more likely to make a student identify with another child’s fate more than to study that person’s life closely.
It’s clearly a very good idea that can only have the effects of personalizing the horror that happened in Europe 6 decades ago and lessening the likelihood of such a tragedy happening again. That’s why I find it so surprising that there is so much complaining about the plan.
Secularists accused Mr. Sarkozy, who is already under fire for his frequent praise of God and religion, of subverting both the country’s iron-clad separation of church and state and the national ideal of a single, nonreligious identity for all.
“Every day the president throws out a new unhappy idea with no coherence,” said Pascal Bruckner, the philosopher. “But this last one is truly obscene, the very opposite of spirituality. Let’s judge it for what it is: a crazy proposal of the president, not the word of the Gospel.”
“It is unimaginable, unbearable, tragic and above all, unjust,” Simone Veil, a Holocaust survivor and honorary president of the Foundation for the Memory of the Holocaust, told the Web site of the magazine L’Express. “You cannot inflict this on little ones of 10 years old! You cannot ask a child to identify with a dead child. The weight of this memory is much too heavy to bear.”
The truth can be a heavy burden at times. But knowing it never harms a person in the way believing a lie does. Jewish historian Serge Klarsfeld agrees:
“This is the crowning glory of long and arduous work,” he said. “To those who say it’s too difficult for young children — that’s not true. What they see on television or in a horror film is much worse. This is not a morbid mission.”
Sarkozy understands this perfectly:
“It is ignorance — not knowledge — that leads to the repetition of abominable situations,” he said during a visit to Périgueux in central France on Friday, adding, “You do not traumatize children by giving them the gift of the memory of a country.”
Some fear that his plan may cause more tension between Muslims and Arabs and French authorities. That is a very real possibility. But offsetting the risk is the possibility that teaching immigrant children about the humanity and virtues of the Holocaust’s victims may instill a respect for Judaism and its adherents in these students that they would not obtain in any other way.
Given the recent history of "immigrant youth" violence and a marked increase in the number and severity of attacks against Jews in France, Sarkozy’s pronouncement may just be the preventative medicine the doctor ordered for a nation sick with internal turmoil.