The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas Holocaust inaccuracies lead to new lessons on Shoah for schools

The controversial novel by Irish author John Boyne was used by hundreds of teachers in lessons on genocide


The “dangerous inaccuracies and fallacies” about the Holocaust perpetuated by bestselling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas have led to the launch of a new programme to improve how the issue is taught to children in schools.

The Centre for Holocaust Education at University College London, revealed more than a third of teachers in England used the bestselling book and film adaptation in lessons on the Nazi genocide.

However, its research found that the story by John Boyne about a friendship between the son of an Auschwitz commandant and a Jewish boy incarcerated in the death camp regularly elicited misplaced sympathy for Nazis.

The researchers attached no criticism of Boyne for his work of fiction, but said using the novel in lessons about a historical event could be problematic.

Another UCL study also found that, despite having been taught in schools for more than 30 years, ignorance about the Holocaust remained widespread with more than two-thirds  of pupils “unaware what antisemitism meant”, and more than half believing Hitler was “solely responsible” for the slaughter, that most victims were German Jews, and that the mass murders took place in Germany, not in occupied eastern Europe.

Now a new partnership between schools and the academics aims to transform children’s Holocaust education

The UCL Centre has developed a new teacher training programme and is distributing thousands of free copies of a Holocaust textbook grounded in historical research aimed pupils aged between 12 and 13.

It is partnering with Star Academies and the Outwood Grange Academies Trust (OGAT), which between them run 83 schools across the country, and hopes other educational trusts will sign up to the scheme.

The Holocaust research centre’s associate director  Dr Andy Pearce said: “This gives us an unprecedented opportunity to deliver research-oriented training as part of teachers’ continuing professional development. We’re committed to working with as many schools and trusts as possible.”

The partnership was welcomed by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan. She said: “The horrors of the past should never be forgotten. The Holocaust represents the very darkest of times and it is right that knowledge of those events are remembered by future generations.

“I’m hugely grateful to the UCL Centre for Holocaust Education alongside OGAT and Star – two of our leading academy trusts – for making high-quality resources on such a vital issue available to children and teachers.”

The Centre’s executive director, Professor Stuart Foster, added that he hoped the partnership would “embolden young people to confront antisemitism, racism and intolerance in all its forms”.

Lord John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, added: “I am delighted at the announcement that these powerhouses of educational excellence have established a formal alliance. It will undoubtedly benefit the teachers and young people who deserve the very best of educational vision and research-informed practice.”

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