Portugal was not occupied by Hitler during World War II, nor did it suffer the consequences of the Holocaust on its soil. But this happy historical circumstance means that practically only the Jewish population in Portugal has affective ties, concrete memories, a direct relationship with the victims of the Nazi genocide. Indeed, how many young people in Portugal will be able to say my grandfather told me ...? Obviously very few. Perhaps that is why the Holocaust has never been the subject of public debate in Portugal as it was, although belatedly, in the countries occupied by Nazism. Thus for the overwhelming majority of Portuguese students and teachers today, the Holocaust is an event that they heard about on television, through some films, some books or some texts inserted in school manuals. But for students the Holocaust is an abstract event, often seen almost as a fiction.
The fact that more than 70 years have passed, also makes teaching the Holocaust more difficult, not only because of the students' attention and interest, but also because of the motivation of teachers and authors of manuals. We know how our society, and not only the Portuguese one, is turned to the vertigo of today and the ephemeral: what is happening today ceases to be tomorrow.
But these are not the only difficulties in teaching the Holocaust, nor perhaps the main ones. There is no story more difficult to tell in the entire history of mankind, said Hannah Arendt. Because? Because the Holocaust radically calls into question the values in which we were formed, our deepest certainties: that through culture and education, man is improving; that it is all the more moral the more educated; that science is a school of progress, rationality and improvement. The Nazi extermination destroyed this perspective: it took place in one of the most industrialized countries, populated by one of the most educated and educated nations in the world. We expected the worst, but not the impossible, says one survivor. After the Holocaust, we learned that the impossible became an open possibility. What the history of the Nazi genocide reveals is that we live in a world that contains the possibility of Auschwitz. It is therefore not easy to teach the Holocaust and, above all, to educate against the Holocaust. But it is a subject that cannot be avoided because it has to do with the very foundations of our civilization. For all those who directly exercise an educational function, in schools, at home, in the media, or who have any responsibility for the training of youth, it is impossible to pretend that Auschwitz did not exist. Unfortunately, Auschwitz has become, in the negative, a world heritage site.
It is necessary to remember Auschwitz to educate against Auschwitz. Educating against Auschwitz the ultimate symbol of the Holocaust means, first of all, studying and knowing what the Nazi genocide was. There is no knowledge through slogans or proclamations, however well intentioned they may be. On the other hand, in a post-Holocaust world and despite the creation of the United Nations and the approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the massacres and genocides continue. Thus, it is our aim to study the Nazi genocide in what it has as unique, but also to seek to establish comparative analyzes in order to be able to recognize in the current tragedies something of the terrible continuity that led a regime to assume the right to dictate the extermination of all a people. In other words, it is our aim to approach the theme of the Holocaust in a universalist and not only Jewish perspective.
There is no organized chain in Portugal with its own thought of denying the Holocaust in public opinion or in the academic world. But ignorance is a breeding ground for all sorts of ideas, including those that deny or devalue the Holocaust. And only study and in-depth knowledge of the Holocaust allows it. Unfortunately, neither the school program nor the textbooks contemplate a serious and rigorous approach to the Holocaust. That is why we propose to the educational community this project, which aims, first of all, to raise awareness of the theme in order to arouse interest, reflection and the desire to know more.