Compulsory Holocaust lessons for newcomers? A great idea!

The Vondelpark, and a sign saying "no Jews". Photo: G.H. Krüger via Stadsarchief Amsterdam

The new coalition’s plan to include the Holocaust on of the list of subjects newcomers need to learn about as part of the inburgering process has caused a mighty fuss but is, says writer Mohammed Benzakour, a very good idea. 

[BBB parliamentarian] Mona Keijzer has been attacked left, right and centre about her idea to make Holocaust lessons compulsory for new arrivals, but, to be perfectly honest, I do not understand what the fuss is about. More than that, I fully support the plan.

By all means give newcomers a thorough grounding in not just windmills and jolly clog dancing, but in what is possibly the blackest page in the Dutch history books. After all, the prospective cabinet is well on the way to making books prohibitively expensive, so a free teaching pack is nothing to sneeze at.

The message the idea will give to newcomers comes down to this: “We are providing you with bed and board, which is very big of us, but know that we also have an evil side”.

Could anything be more praiseworthy? Isn’t the only road to catharsis the complete and honest acceptance of the evil inside of us? Mind you, true enlightenment may not be around the corner, judging from the current government’s complicity in the ethnic cleansing practices going on elsewhere – albeit without Zyklon B.

Anti-Semetic outrages

Having said this, it is a good thing that Islamic newcomers are told what this country is capable of and how here, in this anointed Europe, the earliest anti-Semitic outrages took place.

They should learn how, during the first crusade of 1096, crusaders incessantly harassed the Jews, the scapegoat champions of the era, who were living in the Rhine region. And how the clergy added more fuel to the pyre in their writings. After all, it was our very own revered church father Maarten Luther, “the greatest German who ever lived” as Hitler called him, who, in 1543 wrote the edifying pamphlet Von den Jüden und ihre Lügen?

“Rabbis are damned liars who poison their faithful. Jews are the devil’s spawn, who, if their Messiahs ever returned, would crucify and slander him seven times more than they did with ours. (…) Jews should not be allowed to walk the streets.”

It wasn’t just the Protestants who, actively or passively, contributed to the deportations and slaughter of the Jews. Our dedicated Catholic forebears also participated.

Refuge in the Muslim world

But, and this may come as a surprise to Mona Keijzer, long before Europe gave birth to Hitler and Goebbels, Jews found refuge in the Muslim world, from ancient Constantinople, Al-Andalus, Palestine, Babylon (now Iraq) and all over Morocco (whose cities had countless mellahs, or Jewish quarters) to Jemen.

There, the people of the Torah could practice their religion freely and openly. For example, in 1940 the sultan of Morocco refused to apply the pro-German and anti-Semitic laws of the French Vichy regime.

A knowledge of this history, including the centuries of discrimination and pogroms culminating in the Shoah, will help newcomers understand the Northern European fascination with the ideology of Blut-und-Boden which, as we speak, is once again donning a brown shirt and aiming its bayonet at another Semitic people: the Muslims.

Word of warning

The Holocaust teaching pack, then, is a welcome word of warning to newcomers so they know what a cosy new home they have ended up in, so they realise all that glitters is not gold. After all, to be forewarned is to be forearmed.

And then there’s this. Every day we see and hear how just about anything that serves our purpose is being plucked from far and misunderstood cultures, chit-chat and slogans instead of the soul, walls and fences instead of bridges, truth twisting and lies instead of sources. And the entire dog’s dinner is being served up to people as the ultimate threat.

But we know by now that the castor oil of populism is stirring all sorts of movements except that of understanding and reason. So here’s a final piece of advice to the future cabinet: add to the pack a few chapters on the Dutch VOC and offer every one of your voters a free course as well.

That way not just the newcomers but the Johnnys and Anitas, the farmers and the Bloemendalers who, as they walk along the pretty canals of Amsterdam admiring the imposing façades, may hear, emanating from the walls, the muffled voices and screams from the thousands if not millions of Indonesians and Africans who were butchered in the name of Christ.

Mohammed Benzakour is an award-winning writer, who came to the Netherlands from Morocco with his mother at the age of three. This column was first published in the NRC.

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