Cultivating Holocaust Memory in the IDF: Trends, Directions, and Developments Since the 1987 First Intifada

Cultivating Holocaust Memory in the IDF: Trends, Directions, and Developments Since the 1987 First Intifada

Lea Ganor (Mashmaut Educational Center, Israel & Gordon Academic College of Education, Israel)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6258-0.ch001
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This chapter discusses the transformation in the Education Corps' approach to the conceptualization of Holocaust memory among its soldiers between 1987 and 2004, and the factors that influenced this change. The historical events are the background for the milestones in the IDF's approach to the Holocaust, which is the foundation for this discussion. The Education Corps, which is in charge of the IDF's educational activities, is poised between the IDF and society and was therefore selected as the object of this study, through which we can gain an understanding of the IDF in general. In particular, the diversity of voices of delegation members—who come from different backgrounds, different personal situations, are of different ages, and serve in different positions in the IDF—reflects the complex nature of the experience and the trip's personal impact on the commanders.
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Since the independence of Israel, the IDF’s approach to the Holocaust was forged in an extensive process of transformation in Israeli society’s attitude toward the Holocaust and its images. The transformation was the result of multiple factors, including wars, trials, Holocaust survivors in influential political and military public positions, intergenerational transmission, and second and third generation effects (Liebman and Don-Yehiya, 1983; Schuman and Jacqueline, 1989).

The IDF does not operate in a vacuum, and its approach toward the Holocaust and its images changes in line with changes in society in general. In this process of change, the Holocaust shifted from a national-historic event that should be taught for its own sake, to an instrumental element in soldiers’ education, and in strengthening motivation to serve in the IDF, belief in the justice of the IDF’s actions, and the link between state and military values and society. The Education Corps developed a policy and educational tools designed to instill the IDF’s educational vision among its soldiers.

Wars necessarily amplified the engagement of the IDF, an organization entrusted with the role of defending the State, in teaching the Holocaust. During the period in which the IDF’s educational system was dominated by a national worldview, the topic of physical heroism emerged as a value for educational purposes. Attention to issues related to the Holocaust, such as human dignity and humane conduct increased as the dominance of the IDF’s national worldview waned and as the IDF’s need to focus on its military missions increased (Cohen, 1997).

The events in Israel between 1987 and 2004, which include the First Intifada, the Oslo Accords, waves of terror attacks, the Wye River Memorandum, and the Second Intifada, point to a process that begins with connections made between the complicated situation that IDF soldiers faced in the Intifada and the memory of the Holocaust, a process that peaked in the publication of a document by the Education Corps on the policy concerning teaching the lessons of the Holocaust in the IDF. During this period, the Holocaust’s role in the IDF changed from a ceremonial role revolving around Holocaust Day and lessons in various commander training settings, to engagement in the topic throughout the year and in all stages of IDF soldiers’ training. Both internal and external factors contributed to this change and shaped the Holocaust’s instrumental role in soldier education and in reinforcing the specific nationalZionist lessons that the IDF wished to impart to its soldiers.

External factors included the national, social, and cultural events that affected the relationship between the IDF and society; the growing awareness of the Holocaust in society in general; the increasing professionalization of civic commemoration institutions, mainly Yad Vashem and its strengthened ties with the IDF; the effect of Holocaust survivors on shaping Holocaust memory in society in general, and in the IDF in particular; and high schoolers’ trips to Poland.

Internal factors include the increasingly professionalization of the Education Corps' approach to the Holocaust, and the fact that the Education Corps was sustained by societal inputs and conceptualizations that led to decisions on the significance of teaching Holocaust memory. The IDF’s 2004 ”Mission and Singularity” document that outlined the IDF’s educational policy in general and its policy on teaching Holocaust memory in particular, the role of second-generation IDF commanders in determining IDF policy on the Holocaust, and finally, the IDF delegations to Poland – the “Witnesses in Uniform” program (Kimmerling, 1989; Ofer, 2010; Schiff, 1992; Zerubavel, 1995).

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