On the Jewish calendar, Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) is on Thursday. As a grandson of Holocaust survivors, I say that Holocaust education needs to be fixed.
A survey released last September showed, among adults under the age of 40, a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge.” The 50-state survey of Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Generation Z showed 63% of respondents not knowing that 6 million Jews were massacred in history’s darkest hour, and 48% of those surveyed could not name a single ghetto or concentration camp. Additionally, the survey showed 36% of respondents thought that “two million or fewer Jews” were killed in the Holocaust.
Last year, Congress passed, and President Donald Trump signed into law the Never Again Education Act, which expanded Holocaust education in the United States through the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. In response to the overwhelmingly bipartisan law, Ruth Wisse wrote in the Fall 2020 edition of National Affairs that Holocaust education has become so universalized that it has repurposed the meaning of Holocaust education.
“Weaponizing the Holocaust against Nazism detracts attention from other ongoing anti-Jewish and anti-Western forces. It thus becomes an instrument of politics under the pretense of avoiding politics,” she warned. “Demonizing the right minimizes anti-liberal forces of the left and conceals the record of applied socialism as well as that of Middle Eastern varieties of anti-Jewish politics. Facing history would require the kind of analysis that science undertakes when it isolates the variables to learn the exact causes of a disease as a means of seeking cure and prevention.”
Wisse’s argument has merit. But there must be a balance between teaching about anti-Semitism and its history, whose climax was the Holocaust, and universalizing the lessons of the Shoah.
Teaching about the Holocaust requires learning about the history of anti-Semitism. The Shoah did not happen in a vacuum; rather, it was the climax of more than a thousand years of hatred toward Jews in Europe and elsewhere. Unfortunately, anti-Semitism remains a potent force across much of the world. It’s nothing new. Prior to the Holocaust, the Jews faced Crusades, discrimination, the Inquisition, expulsions, pogroms, and other forms of oppression.
Just before the Shoah, the Jews faced the Nuremberg Laws, ghettos, firing squads, and, eventually, concentration and death camps. Although the Jews now have a homeland of their own, Israel, which was founded a few years after the Holocaust, anti-Semitism has been anything but on the decline. Today, we see anti-Semitism from four corners: the far Left, the far Right, radical Islam, and other places such as the attacks against Jews nationwide. A Jewish couple visiting the Big Apple with their toddler were slashed in a knife attack last week. That assault is being investigated as a possible bias crime.
Among religious groups, Jews are the most targeted for hate crimes in the U.S. annually. In 2019, of the 1,715 victims of hate crimes based on anti-religious bias, just over 60% of the victims were of anti-Jewish hate crimes.
Along with education in a comprehensive history of anti-Semitism, especially the Holocaust, there should be a universal element about the Shoah in that we must speak out against injustice everywhere. Today, we see genocides happening in China (against the Uyghurs and other minorities), Ethiopia (in Tigray), and Burma (against the Rohingya Muslims).
If we’re going to say “never again,” we also need to say “no more.” No more anti-Semitism. No more hate. No more genocide. Holocaust education must consist of these calls to action.
Jackson Richman was most recently the Washington correspondent for JNS.org. Follow him on Twitter: @jacksonrichman.