Jewish Holocaust Histories and the Work of Chronological Narratives

Feb. 27, 2012

Source: Journal of Jewish Education, Volume 78, Issue 1, pages 58-83


This article examines the ways that, in Holocaust education in Jewish schools in Melbourne and New York at the beginning of the 21st century, knowledge of the Holocaust is transferred to students in chronological form. It begins by asking: What work do chronological narratives do within the Holocaust historical narratives offered within Jewish high school classrooms? In order to explore this question, examples from curricula and interviews with the teachers are explored. It is argued that while the use of chronological narratives within the high-school classroom to narrate historical events is not unique to the teaching of the Holocaust, the work which this narrative form does is particular to the negotiation of the traumatic aftermath of the Holocaust.


The author concludes:

"This article has explored this aspect of the education through the structure of the narratives which the teachers construct and present. By exploring and critiquing the ways in which teachers construct chronological narratives and utilize survivor testimony, this article has tried to open up the boundaries of these histories and memories. As has been shown, the presentation of Holocaust histories as carrying the “truth” of the Holocaust serves to suture a large and complex traumatic history. By narrating the Holocaust as knowable, and its important lessons as being located in historical facts and verifiable truths—which are carried by survivors—the teachers are trying to work against the rupture of what is traumatic and painful of the Holocaust. In presenting the important lessons of the Holocaust as coalescing in a set of knowable facts, the teachers work against an idea of history as provisional, of (traumatic) history as unknowable and unrepresentable, yet grapple with the problem of how to represent something (Ball, 2008). The taming of time into chronological form tries to tame the uncertainty. And we can thus understand—in large part—the work which chronological narratives are made to do within the Jewish high-school Holocaust history classroom."

Updated: Mar. 20, 2012