Trips to Israel help Chinese understand the Holocaust

Some 30 teachers and students travel to Israel annually to learn the history of the Jews, on organised tours paid for by a casino magnate

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 4:19am
UPDATED : Sunday, 27 January, 2013, 5:00am


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Almost 70 years and a continent away, the memories of the second world war and the Holocaust are few and far between in China. An initiative funded by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson is trying to change that with trips to Israel.

"Hitler had a lot of power. You have to be careful about teaching the Holocaust. Otherwise, students may want to be him," said Rosina Choi Ho-leng, a government press officer in Macau who went on one of the trips. 

It is difficult for Chinese to understand the persecution that snowballed into the Holocaust and why it led to the systematic killing of six million Jews under Nazi rule. "Most of us Chinese are atheists," said Fu Xiaowei, director of Judaic and Chinese studies at Sichuan University of International Studies in Chongqing. "People think there must be something wrong with Jews for so many people to want to kill them. They wonder what they did wrong."

Teaching Chinese about the Holocaust starts from the beginning, and an explanation of 2,000 years of animosity between some Christians and Jews, said Glenn Timmermans, a board member of the Hong Kong Holocaust and Tolerance Centre, which with Yad Vashem, the Israeli government-funded memorial and Holocaust education centre, helps run seminars about the Holocaust in Hong Kong, Macau and on the mainland. 

Timmermans has been teaching literature at the University of Macau since 2001. He has been organising two week trips to Israel  for Chinese scholars since 2010.

About 30 teachers and students go each year. Their expenses are paid for by casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. 

Adelson is a controversial figure in both US and Israeli politics, because of his support of right-wing politicians such as Benjamin Netanyahu. Adelson has an interest in China, particularly because of his Sands casino business in Macau.

China's relationship with Israel is complex. The two nations established diplomatic relations only in 1992, as China had always been friendly with the Arab world. But the effort to educate Chinese people about Israel with the trips appears to be paying off.

"Israel is an amazing country," said Yu Jinjin, a master's student in Jewish history at Henan University.

"It was safe, and the people were friendly. Before I went, all I knew was that there was war," she said, adding that she thinks the Jewish people deserve the land.

Trip participants were aware that what they learned was from a Jewish perspective, said Choi, who helps organise the Jewish Film Festival in Macau and recommends others for the trip.

"The trip's teachings are not biased but they are very much from the point of view of the Jews, the victims," she said.