Thursday, August 22, 2013

A perspective from Bulgaria

Gergana Karadhova, 2011 AJC PSA participant

Meet my student Todor.
He is fourteen. Likes football. Smart but lazy.
2/3 of the time Todor is bored at school.
1/3 of the time he has a test and thus – no choice.
When Todor is bored he draws swastikas on the school desks.
Strings of dark ink splatters, each an inch-long.
Todor assigns no special meaning to the Nazi symbol. He has heard of Hitler, knows what happened during the Holocaust, and has been told well over a million times that this is punishable. School rules strictly forbid drawing on desks.

Todor is one of my students. But also one of thousands.

In Bulgaria, the history curriculum is structured so that World War II and the Holocaust come up for the first and only time in 10th grade. This means that students are 16 or 17 when they finally get to read the one page about the Holocaust in their textbook. By that time most kids have seen a movie, read a book, or heard from others about the Jews. Yet the delay of formal education on the topic leads to ambiguity of historically accurate information. In countries with growing ethnic conflicts, especially those with Roma minorities, swastikas are turning into a symbol of distrust towards all things established, the state and the system. The anti-Semitic meaning is ignored because in these parts of the world “Jewish” is an increasingly abstract term; so few Jews live here. In Bulgaria, over 90% of Bulgarian Jews left for Israel after 1948.

It is not only the poorly educated and “kids with problems” who search for ways to express their distrust towards the establishment. There is a connection between ethnic intolerance, Holocaust education, and anti-social behavior. Is it Todor’s fault that for 14 years, Bulgaria’s schools haven’t found the “necessary number of class periods” to teach him about the Holocaust?

Gergana Karadhova took part in the Auschwitz Jewish Center Program for Students Abroad in May 2011 while studying in Potsdam, Germany. In her current work as a teacher in her native Sofia, she strives to foster awareness in her students about the importance of tolerance.