Empathy vs. Critical Reflection: Encountering Holocaust Testimonies in an Israeli Classroom

Lilach Naishtat Bornstein, Eyal Naveh


How can we bridge between the emotional and cognitive study of Holocaust testimony in Israel? We examine this question through an undergraduate course at an Israeli college of education, using the methodology of collaborative self-study. The fostering of empathy was a key component of the course, with students encouraged to share their feelings, personal experiences, and impressions. These were treated as a major resource in the study process, and connected classroom occurrences with the course material. At the same time, various pedagogical methods were used to elicit critical reflection, allowing us to explore preconceived notions held by the students concerning the preservation and expression of Holocaust memory. The students’ close identification with Holocaust victims became in and of itself an effective tool for critical examination. The three central foci of the study were assumptions of Israeli Jewish students with regard to Holocaust memory, changes achieved in the course through critical reflection, and the ethical value of these changes. We conclude with a discussion of future approaches to the teaching of Holocaust studies in light of the experience gained from this course.


Holocaust education, testimonies, teacher training, empathy, critical pedagogy

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