‘It’s time to rethink Holocaust education’

Marc Cave says the way we teach about the Holocaust needs to change in order to confront current antisemitism


Marc Cave, director of the National Holocaust Centre and Museum, in front of the museum's current travelling exhibition (Photo: David Parry)

Holocaust education has struggled to keep pace with contemporary antisemitism and must catch up if it is going to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to young audiences.

This is the view of Marc Cave, one of the UK’s foremost Holocaust educators and the director of the UK’s National Holocaust Centre and Museum.

Cave, who came to the centre over four years ago, not via the more predictable route of museum management or academia, but from advertising, says the sector has “fallen behind” and does not do enough to challenge head-on the rise of modern antisemitism.

Speaking to the JC ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, he says: “We live in such a different time now. When Holocaust education began in the 90s, we didn’t have the internet and Israel wasn’t the demonised country it is today.

“People still thought of Israel as this plucky little country, but that has changed, and Holocaust education hasn’t kept pace.”

Nearly 80 years after the end of World War Two, Cave says people in the UK no longer have a sense of what the Holocaust means to them. “It is not connected to their history in the way it was connected to the generations before.”

At the same time, Holocaust educators today are facing a “perfect storm”, says Cave. “On the one hand, you have the far left and on the other, you have Islamist ideology, and Holocaust education has not faced these things head on.”

Cave says his background in advertising has given him a unique perspective on how to address some of these challenges.

Firstly, he says, we need to change the language. “We have to get rid of the word ‘antisemitism’. I won’t use it. People don’t understand what it means. We must talk about racism against Jews in the way we talk about racism against everyone else.” To that end, the word “antisemitism” has been replaced by “anti-Jewish racism” throughout the museum.

Secondly, we need to change the teaching methods by making links to contemporary examples of Jew-hate.

He says: “If you take Islamists, they don’t just want to wipe out the Jewish state. They want a caliphate, including in Britain and that impacts everyone. They have somehow managed to mobilise support from people in the UK by defining a common global enemy - ‘the Jews’.

“How many of their supporters in Britain parrot their chants on these marches without even knowing what they are chanting about?”

One of mistakes that Cave thinks has been made in Holocaust education is to teach Nazi ideology and the “Final Solution” in isolation.

“People are not taught that the Holocaust is the middle chapter of an ongoing story for the Jewish people. They think it is the beginning of our story and it is not.”

Equally, there has sometimes been pressure on the Holocaust education sector to downplay its Jewish significance. “Today, there are attempts by some to ignore the specificity of the Shoah in terms of what it meant for Jews and to lump genocides together. I don’t think you can do that.”

In his work, he has found that it is common for schools to say they can only teach about Jew-hate and the Holocaust if they talk about Islamophobia. “This type of thing needs to be pushed back against,” he says. “Both are important, and both should be talked about, but why is it that there is only one group of people who can’t talk about racism against it without talking about the racism faced by other people?”

Since Cave’s appointment in November 2019, the museum has focused on technology to engage younger generations of learners. A prime example is The Forever Project which, using voice recognition and AI, enables the audience to watch and hear a survivor share their story and ask them questions – even when they are no longer alive.

It just one of a number of powerful educational tools Cave has innovated “to communicate the memory of the Holocaust for a thoroughly contemporary purpose - to grow a community of ‘critical thinkers’ right across society.”

The National Holocaust Centre & Museum’s touring exhibition, I Say British, You Say Jewish, in partnership with the Jewish Museum London, is currently on. For details, go to

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