Educational Autonomy and the Holocaust: A Comparative Study of Teachers’ Freedom in European Narratives

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While Holocaust memory underscores the significance of freedom, the actual enactment of freedom varies across different countries, posing a vital question for educating about the Holocaust. How do educators navigate this dissonance? Do they serve as conduits for government perspectives, or do they exercise their teacher autonomy? As part of a comparative study examining shifts in Holocaust memory in Europe from 2020 to 2022, my colleagues and I conducted in-depth interviews with 75 Holocaust educators from Poland, Hungary, Germany, and England, inviting them to share their life stories and professional experiences. This article delves into a recurring theme found within these educators’ narratives: the appreciation of freedom and choice. To interpret the significance of this theme, I integrate educational theories on ‘difficult history’ and teacher autonomy with theories of psychological reactance and the freedom quotient (FQ). I draw on Isaiah Berlin's concepts of negative and positive liberty to bridge the personal and societal dimensions. The resulting model provides a framework for the study's findings. As expected, teachers from Poland and Hungary felt their negative liberty was constrained, while those from Germany and England reported a greater degree of autonomy. More surprisingly, limited negative liberty led many interviewees from Poland and Hungary to find powerful ways to express their inner freedom. These included resistance to authority, activism within and beyond the classroom, and the application of diverse and creative pedagogical approaches in EaH. The interviews also pointed to a connection between higher levels of negative liberty in Germany and England, and a plurality of content and goals in EaH within these countries. In light of these findings, I offer policy and educational recommendations.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)120-138
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Holocaust Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Educating about the Holocaust (EaH)
  • freedom quotient (FQ)
  • Holocaust education
  • negative and positive liberty
  • teacher autonomy
  • teacher reactance

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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