German-Polish Textbook Team Fights Stereotypes With Facts | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 24.02.2007
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German-Polish Textbook Team Fights Stereotypes With Facts

Based on "the more you know" principle, a 35-year-old German-Polish textbook committee combats stereotypes and does First Aid on historical wounds by making sure kids learn the truth about history in school.

The River Oder -- and a lot of painful history -- stand between Germany and Poland

The River Oder -- and a lot of painful history -- stand between Germany and Poland

In the 1970s, some German textbooks still had maps of Poland showing pre-World War II borders and Polish history books didn't mention that many Germans actively resisted Nazi ideology during the Third Reich.

That began to change when the Georg Eckert Institute for International Text Book Research in Braunschweig was founded in 1972, on the initiative of UNESCO, to examine textbooks in both countries and remedy these very inaccuracies.

Buch auf dem Lande

Knowing history is a prerequisite for working through it

Only with a fair and unbiased understanding of history could youngsters on both sides of the River Oder shed prejudices, overcome the past and improve their countries' relationship.

In honor of the institute's 35th birthday, an exhibit will be held until Monday, Feb. 26 in Lower Saxony's representative office in Berlin, which documents the progress that has been made over the years.

Recognize guilt and then move on

It used to be that Poland hardly showed up at all in many German textbooks. A recent comparison, however, shows that Poland is now "just as represented as France," said Thomas Strobel, the exhibit's designer, in an interview with German news agency dpa.

One of the members of the textbook committee, Robert Mayer, told Deutsche Welle about the organization's approach to overcoming what he called the "political exploitation of the German-Polish polarity.

"Everyone has to recognize their own guilt," he said. "It alleviates the situation when the other person sees: 'Ah, he's not closing in on me or making accusations, instead he's admitting his guilt.'"

Getting away from national thinking is also very important, he added.

Beyond Central Europe

Grenzpfeiler Polen Deutschland

Poland is now associated more with globalization than with communism

The institute has also moved beyond its purely Polish-German focus. In addition to the 200 German and Polish experts who have contributed to the textbook committee, academic experts come from all over the world to visit the institute, learn from its example and make use of its extensive library.

Recently, Jordanian and Egyptian textbook writers met to discuss how history could be taught more fairly and accurately in their respective countries. The goal of cross-border understanding isn't limited to neighboring countries, however.

"The mutual perception and historical interpretation of Europe and the Arab world has become one of our biggest tasks in the past few years," said the institute's director, Simone Lässig.

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