(Last period on a Friday afternoon, at a high school somewhere in England, a Year 11 History lesson is coming to an end.)
Teacher: That’s the end of that module on the Nazis and the Holocaust. Any questions?
Liam: Sir, I saw on the internet there are loads of Nazis in Ukraine.
Teacher: Well, we hear stories like that, but it’s not really true.
Tommy: Actually, I saw pictures of them where they all had Nazi badges and signs on their uniforms and loads of them had Nazi tattoos. There’s even a Nazi part of the army – Azov battalion, they’re called.
Molly: I saw something on TikTok about the tattoos – the Russians were getting captured Ukrainians to strip so they could see if they had tattoos and were Nazis.
Tommy: Is that why you were watching it, Molly?
Molly: Shut up, Tommy!
Teacher: Excuse me! Hang on a minute, let’s stop there …
Rab: They’re right, Sir – I’ve seen them too, and they always seem to be doing Nazi salutes.
Lisa: I saw on Instagram a torchlight procession like we saw on that Nazi video you showed us, Sir, and they were making salutes and singing Nazi songs.
Teacher: Can we stop shouting out please? You know very well you can’t believe all you see on the internet and social media. You have to be careful.
Liam: But, Sir, isn’t it true they have statues in the streets over there of Ukrainians who fought with the Nazis during World War 2? There’s one famous one, can’t remember his name though …
Tommy: Bandera! He was the leader. They have statues and streets named after him.
Molly: And stamps!
Teacher: Listen up …
Rab: Sir, did you see where a reporter interviewed a Ukrainian soldier and he had a type of codename, can’t remember the proper word for it, but guess what it was? Adolf! Adolf!!! Can you believe that?
Teacher: Right … quiet! Firstly, believe it or not, Adolf is a name … not a very common one, admittedly, and it’s unfortunate that he uses it and that he was the person they interviewed. But just because we see a few examples of something, we shouldn’t generalise. And even if they do have Nazi insignia and tattoos, they are different to the Nazis in World War 2.
Liam: What was that documentary we watched, Sir, the one on the Nazis. What was it called again?
Teacher: Ah yeah, ‘The Nazis – a warning from history’.
Liam: Right, Sir. A warning from history. Well shouldn’t we be a bit worried about this lot today – isn’t it like the warning?
Teacher: No, it’s totally different. What we are talking about here is a few misguided patriots with, I suppose, what we could describe as … a few ideological quirks.
Molly: But, Sir, what is it you always say when we ask why we are learning about people from hundreds of years ago? You’re always telling us that history often repeats itself and that the more we are aware of things from the past, the less chance we have of making similar mistakes in the future. How is this different?
Teacher: Firstly, while we study history and the past, it doesn’t mean we must apply what we learn to everything going on today.
Molly: But surely …
Tommy: What’s a quirk?
Teacher: Stop, listen up. Can we have a bit of quiet for a minute? Just think back to when we discussed the thirty-year rule. Anyone remember what that is?
Tommy: It’s where the government releases documents from thirty years ago so we can see what they were up to back then.
Teacher: Right, well, yeah … more or less. And just because governments were doing things that we might not have approved of at that time, it doesn’t mean the same thing is happening today. I mean, we now know from sources that the British government supported the likes of Osama bin Laden way back, people who eventually became enemies of ours.
Rab: My old man’s Scottish and he said that al-Qaeda were trained in Glencoe by the SAS because it was similar to the mountains in their own country.
Teacher: Well, not al-Qaeda … they were called the mujahadeen.
Rab: But they were bin Laden’s mob weren’t they, Sir? That’s what my old man said anyway …
Teacher: Yes, they were linked to bin Laden. But getting back to what I was saying. We know that happened back then, but it doesn’t mean that the government is doing stuff like that today.
Tommy: What about Syria, Sir?
Teacher: What about it, Tommy?
Tommy: I saw on the internet how we are supporting al-Qaeda and Isis over there?
Teacher: Here we go again, believing everything you see on the internet. I thought you all knew better than that by now!
Lisa: So, we aren’t supporting anyone there then, Sir?
Teacher: Well, we’re providing support to democratic forces who are against the government there … moderate rebels.
Molly: What’s a ‘moderate rebel’, Sir?
Teacher: Well, it’s fairly self-explanatory – they are people rebelling against the government, but they’re not extremists. They’re … moderate.
Rab: Oh thanks sir, that’s cleared it up …
Teacher: Anyway, just think for a minute. Who did the Nazis perpetrate the Holocaust against?
Liam and Rab: The jews
Teacher: That’s right. And what religion is President Zelensky?
Liam: He’s jewish isn’t he, Sir?
Teacher: Precisely. He’s jewish. And not only that, when he ran for the presidency, he did so on a peace platform, calling for peace in eastern Ukraine where the fighting was going on. If the country was riddled with neo-nazis, why would they vote for him to be president?
Rab: But they didn’t, Sir?
Teacher: What? What are you talking about, Rab?
Rab: They didn’t. I saw a programme on him and it said that the west of the Ukraine, where they said most of the Nazis live, voted for his opponent. It was actually the votes from the rest of the country, the Russian parts, that helped him win!
Tommy: That’s mental!
Rab: Straight up. Bloke said it, showed the map and everything!
Teacher: If that’s the case, why did Zelensky go to Poland recently, and commemorate the anniversary of the killing of 70,000 Poles, or maybe even more, by Ukrainian nationalists during World War 2?
Liam: I saw that, Sir. But the same day didn’t he meet all those Azov Nazi prisoners of war who had just been released and gave them a heroes’ welcome?
Rab: No wonder, he’s probably shit scared of them. Sorry, Sir … I mean, he’s very scared of them.
Teacher: Appropriate language please, Rab! Anyway, what were we saying? Oh yeah, that’s different – they were prisoners of war he was welcoming back. And let’s not forget we’re talking about events nearly eighty years ago. German Nazis were unique, a one-off, and you can’t compare today’s Ukrainian nationalists with them.
Teacher: Anyway, there’s the bell. As I said, that’s the end of the module. Next week we start a new topic … ‘Imperialism – the good and the bad?’ Enjoy your weekend!