Recently, a colleague of mine expressed dismay when a Jewish student at a top tier university admitted that all they knew about the Holocaust was “Auschwitz and Anne Frank.” Unfortunately, this is a theme that is all too present amongst the young Jewish community, and millennials as a whole. While our community may hold a Holocaust commemoration or educational event once per year for Yom HaShoah, the lessons of the Holocaust are largely lost on my fellow millennials.
Ultimately, this is the failure of our formal and communal education systems, which have marginalized and shamed certain memories of the Holocaust for far too long. This has possibly led to the rise in anti-Semitism that is sweeping across the globe. As Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben implies in his book Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, the shame that some survivors felt following the Holocaust reflected upon all those who came after. Their shame was adopted by the world as a whole, Jews and non-Jews alike. Thus, the Holocaust subconsciously is pushed to the side in favor of other perspectives on education.
The lessons lost by not talking about the Holocaust in formal and informal education settings are not just historical. Within the lens of the Holocaust, educators and role models can impart lessons for a broad range of subjects. Holocaust related topics can be woven into existing ideas of identity and resilience, while also teaching practically about other fields such as science and sociology.
For example, on the 2017 Together, Restoring their Names Holocaust memory trip to Berlin, students from Wellesley College learned about the stories of women and children in the Holocaust, which reflected what some of them studied in school. Furthermore, these students of diverse backgrounds took ownership of their own education, researching an aspect of the Holocaust that resonated with them and presented that topic to their peers.
This method breaks down the formal top down education system that does not work for all. Post trip, these lessons that combat anti-Semitism were shared across our social media platforms, which is an underutilized opportunity across the Holocaust memory world.
In some instances, Agamben’s ideas on shame are transcendent, and survivors and their families find pride and happiness in Holocaust related settings. I recently had the pleasure of attending the Boston meeting of Cafe Europa with a number of our Together, Restoring their Names student fellows. At the event, survivors and their families embraced one another, coming together in friendship in spite of their shared painful pasts. This should be the model for imparting Holocaust memory to the next generation, showing that the Holocaust is a lesson for all.