Recently, Holocaust education has shifted to a more personal approach in many countries in Europe. This approach attempts to place the individuals at the center of our understanding of history. By using personal stories, a more human insight can be achieved, often making young people particularly struck by the fact that so many people allowed this, or can allow any genocide, failing to either resist or protest.
Such terrible things did not started with deportations and concentration camps, but developed step by step. Looking at tendencies in modern Europe, we must be aware that history can be repeated and the Holocaust happened with the silent acceptance and support of the broad majority.
The movie The Wave, directed by Dennis Gansel and based on Ron Jone's social experiment The Third Wave, is a very good exemple of how fascism and things as Holocaust situation could happen again.
The movie takes place in a german high school. During one week of workshops about different subjects, one teacher learn to his students what is autocracy. The Holocaust subject come in their conversation, and students were convinced that something as the Holocaust couldn't happen again because they learnt to much about it. Here, the teacher started to settle a practical exercise : the creation of a small dictature, creating a new ideology, attracting more and more students in his group in order to show them that it's still very easy to fall into this bad situation.
First, he gaves a specific name to the dictator (himself), and created many ceremony acts around his image to create a true ideology that people can recognize easily (as a specific salute, a uniform, and a logo for the party). Then he gaves a name to the group of students which followed him : The Wave. That's how the party was created and how it began to grow.
But more than these little distinctive acts, the teacher helped the students in their every day life during this week. For exemple in the classroom, for each desks, he put a good student next to a bad student, in order to make them help each other and involove the class level. He learnt them how to sit and to breath correctly in order to stay healthy during lessons. Then he began to make them walk together as in the army, to make them feel powerful and supportive. All these actions made the students feel more happy and comfortable with this new « Wave » group, because they felt closer to each other and very powerful together, as a people mass.
But here, more you are in the « mass feeling », less you think by yourself. You just finish by following the group, so the individuality is lost and less and less people express a different point of view than the dictator's one.
At the beginning this exercise amused the students, they found it very funny and didn't saw the link with the fascism. They went slowly inside the group, inside the « Wave » ideology, and felt step by step into autocracy.
This movie shows very well how groups can be easily manipulated. Their brainwash was slow but spread very easily. We are definitely not immunated against the mistakes we already made in the past.
Nowadays, right-wing extremism is a rising force on the entire continent. Hate crimes and online hate speech are turning into regular realities. Extreme right-wing parties are elected into local municipalities and national parliaments. If this goes on, it could become very dangerous. We can act and should act against fascism and all forms of hate, and this start at a very local level : our schools and workplaces, our neighbourhoods and streets. Here we have the power to really make the difference and shape our society : small steps can change a lot.
Racist insults and violence are very common all over the world. Many people witnessing a racist attack quickly turn away as if nothing happended. Often they are afraid or do not know how to react. But ignorance actually fuels the climate of violence. In such situations, civil courage is needed. Speaking up to support someone in need while others are silent is not easy. But civil courage is possible and can be trained. It is not about playing the hero, it means listening to your inner voice telling you that something has happened which is not right and that you should do something against it.
The important things you could do in these kind of situations, advised by the United For Intercultural Action, is first to act immediately : don't wait other people to help. The longer you hesitate, the more difficult it becomes to intervene. Also, it's important to bring help : if it's in a bus, call the driver, call the police, or attract attention. You can also support the victim in keeping eye contact with him/ her to assure that you are there to help, but don't provoke the perpetrator, it could lead to violence and put you and other people in danger.
Of course these interventions could seem easier for some people than for other more introverted, but it can be trained and involved. If you feel like there is a need to act on the moment, so try to act.