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9 May, 2008 10:21

History lessons to fight WW2 ignorance in Israel

Over half a million Jews fought Nazi Germany in the Red Army. One in two was killed on the battlefield. Many veterans now live in Israel – but Israeli children are often ignorant of how exactly the Nazis were defeated. And teaching in schools i

Yakov Shavitz was a soldier in the Red Army during World War Two and he says more needs to be done to raise awareness of their place in history.

“I arrived in Israel in 1957 and soon realised the young generation don't have any idea of what went on during World War II. So after I retired I organised for me and my veteran friends to visit schools and give talks on the war and our participation in it,” he says.

Until the Russian Jews arrived in Israel some eighteen years ago, very little was taught in schools about the Russian involvement in the war.
But now the country’s education department claims to have changed things.

Gita Rochakh, from Israel's Ministry of Education, says: “I am very close to this topic but you have to understand we have to fit it into the school year timetable. I think we teach enough about the Soviet Union's involvement in the time we have. It is very important that every student understands that the Soviet Union was the main power to fight the enemy.”

The situation has improved slightly, but there remains scant recognition of Russia’s role. In today's final school year history textbooks, eighty words cover the battle of Stalingrad. Twenty words cover the Blockade of Leningrad.

Aside from two pages on the United States’ involvement and a long history of Jews who fought in the war, that basically sums up what Israeli students learn about WW2.

One student believes they should be taught more about the past.

“Somehow in our school, history is not a lesson in which our teachers invest too much time,” says Hedva Avitar. “For World War II we only have one week. If it wasn't for my father who gives me the right books at home, I wouldn't even know about the battle of Stalingrad.”