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Problematic Portrayals and Contentious Content

Representations of the Holocaust in English History Textbooks

Stuart Foster and Adrian Burgess

Keywords: England; history textbooks; Holocaust education; IHRA; national curriculum

This article reports on a study about the ways in which the Holocaust is portrayed in four school history textbooks in England. It offers detailed analysis and critical insights into the content of these textbooks, which are commonly used to support the teaching of this compulsory aspect of the history National Curriculum to pupils aged eleven to fourteen. The study draws on a recent national report based on the responses of more than 2,000 teachers and explicitly uses the education guidelines of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) as a benchmark against which to evaluate the textbook content. It identifies a number of potentially alarming findings of which two themes predominate: a common tendency for textbooks to present an “Auschwitz-centric,” “perpetrator narrative” and a widespread failure to sensitively present Jewish life and agency before, during, and after the war. Ultimately, the article calls for the improvement of textbook content, but equally recognizes the need for teachers to be knowledgeable, judicious, and critical when using textbooks in their classrooms.

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