7 Lessons from the Holocaust


Whenever I write on the Holocaust – the Shoah – I do so with a certain degree of humility, and not without a deep sense of pain.

For I am reminded of what my parents taught me while still a young boy — the profundity and pain of which I realized only years later — that there are things in Jewish history that are too terrible to be believed, but not too terrible to have happened; that Oswiencim, Majdanek, Dachau, Treblinka — these are beyond vocabulary. Words may ease the pain, but they may also dwarf the tragedy. For the Holocaust was uniquely evil in its genocidal singularity, where biology was inescapably destiny, a war against the Jews in which, as Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel put it, “not all victims were Jews, but all Jews were victims.”

But while the Holocaust was “uniquely unique” as Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer put it, there are important universal lessons to be acted upon.

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An American student’s experience at Dachau

STUTTGART, GERMANY “Because the Nazis were cooler than the Jews.” I hadn’t caught the question, but the answer was the latest in a succession of jokes about the Holocaust a month ago in my ninth-grade history class in Germany. The boys laughed uncontrollably, ignoring our teacher’s attempts to stop them, while looking at pictures of starving concentration camp victims.

A few days later, thingsPrisoners March Dachau got worse. Our class visited Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp. I was with some girls who congregated next to the barracks, where the prisoners once lay piled on top of each other. Nearby was a large black sculpture of men ensnared in barbed wire. One girl cracked a joke, and everyone laughed. I didn’t see the humor, only the ghosts.

Holocaust Remembrance Day is Sunday. Many U.S. schools will observe the day on Monday, but not my German school. What I heard from my German classmates that day makes me think that maybe we should.

Am I overreacting? Is it because I am American — and a Jew? As the daughter of a Marine officer, I’ve had the opportunity to live in different parts of the U.S. and the world. In each setting, I’ve learned to live among different peoples and cultures, forcing me to view life from different perspectives.

So why does it matter to me that my class take the Holocaust seriously? There are two lessons we can learn from the Holocaust. First, we can learn the past: The dates, the names. All the things my class learned in school. The second lesson is about the present. About human nature. About ourselves. The lesson my classmates missed. As a Jew, I couldn’t miss the lesson. My relatives are living history.

But my classmates’ families really don’t talk about the Holocaust. Perhaps it is too uncomfortable a topic. Nor is it usually a topic in school. In my school, the Holocaust is not even mentioned until the ninth grade. And when we do study World War II, the systematic genocide of Jews is barely mentioned.

I do think that German students should take the Holocaust as seriously as other students. These horrors are a big part of their history, and something that continues to affect how some Germans see their country today.

When my classmates laughed at Dachau, they weren’t being monsters. My class acted no differently than my class in South Carolina, where slavery was justified because “times were different.” In both these situations, my classes covered up these tragedies of the past and chose to ignore the lesson taught by history: that if allowed to go too far, humans can do terrible things.

The best way to make sure something like the Holocaust is never repeated is not to shield children from what happened, but teach them the moral lessons about people’s capacity for evil.

Kids Earned Praise for Hoax Claims

Dozens of California middle-school students questioned whether the Holocaust actually happened during a controversial assignment earlier this year.Cali School Update pic

Administrators for the Rialto Unified School District agreed to revise the assignment after it drew international attention in May, and they responded to criticism by arguing that none of the students w
ho completed the essay questioned or denied the Holocaust.

But The San Bernardino County Sun surveyed the eight-grade students’ work and found many of them expressed doubts about the Holocaust or denied outright that it had happened.

In some cases, students earned good scores for arguing the Holocaust never took place, and teachers praised their reasoning.

“I believe the event was fake, according to source 2 the event was exhaggerated,” one student wrote. (The newspaper retained students’ and teachers’ grammar and spelling.) “I felt that was strong enogh evidence to persuade me the event was a hoax.”

That student earned 23 points out of 30, with points taken off for failure to address counterclaims and capitalization and punctuation errors.

“(Y)ou did well using the evidence to support your claim,” the student’s teacher commented.

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Netanyahu Rejects Holocaust Comments

Netanyahu-cabinet--300x172Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday rejected Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ recent sympathetic statements about the Holocaust citing the PA’s recent moves to unite with terror group Hamas, which is committed to Israel’s destruction.

“Hamas denies the Holocaust even as it attempts to create an additional Holocaust by destroying the State of Israel. It is with this Hamas that Abu Mazen chose to form an alliance last week,” Netanyahu told ministers at his government’s weekly cabinet meeting. “Instead of issuing statements designed to placate global public opinion, Abu Mazen needs to choose between the alliance with Hamas, a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel and denies the Holocaust, and a true peace with Israel.”

Another Teenage Holocaust Diary Discovered

rywka Lipszyc DiaryWhile Anne Frank and her diary have become something of an emblem of early Holocaust education for students, another diary written by a teenager during the Holocaust has surfaced that can perhaps offer a different perspective of the atrocities. JWeekly reports that the diary of Rywka Lipszyc, which chronicles six months of life in the Lodz Ghetto through the eyes of a 14-year-old, has been discovered—and, after an extensive authentication process, published.

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The trauma of second-generation Holocaust survivors

Rita GoldbergThe children of people who lived through the Holocaust – mostly Jewish – are known as second-generation survivors. In recent years, large numbers of these middle-aged men and women have been trying to make sense of their backgrounds, which have sometimes been obscured, especially where their parents have been unable to talk about their experiences.

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Religious minorities helped rescue Jews


The Netherlands had the lowest Jewish survival rate of any Western European country during the Holocaust. Only 27 percent of its 140,000 Jews outlived the German occupation, compared to 60 percent in neighboring Belgium and 75 percent in France. This is despite relatively modest levels of anti-Semitism before the war. Conventional explanations range from Dutch obedience to authority, the ease by which Jews could be located in this densely populated flat country, and the absence of borders to countries that could offer refuge. Yet, these are still unsettled questions in what is a surprisingly novel political science of the Holocaust.

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