If there’s any lesson to be drawn from the Whoopi Goldberg brouhaha it’s about the need for everyone to learn history. Though the full force of his ire was vented on the chosen people, Adolph Hitler had other targets — Roma, homosexuals, communists, disabled people, and, yes Whoopi,–your very own race, the people of color. Had you had the terrible fortune to have been born in the Third Reich you would have been counted among the victims.
No, Whoopi this wasn’t about white people being mean to other white people.
The Holocaust and blacks. Sadly, the subject is hardly talked about -but under the Nuremberg laws, black people were categorized as a minority with alien blood. They couldn’t become German citizens even if they were born in Germany. They couldn’t attend public school. They were pariahs banished from society.
The children of mixed-race families were dubbed Rheinlandbastard, a term that doesn’t require translation. The Nazi state sterilized them so that their “alien blood” couldn’t be passed on.
Many were sent to forced labor camps, concentration camps and many were murdered. This was worse than Jim Crow.
Whoopi, how is it that you didn’t know this?
Sadly you are not alone. These day’s it’s holocaust ignorance, rather than Holocaust denial that is the real culprit. A 2020 survey of 11,000 Americans, commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, showed a “worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge” among adults under 40. More than half of respondents were not aware that six million Jews were killed, 48% could not name a concentration camp where Jews were taken during the Holocaust, and shockingly — 11% said they believed Jews caused it, according to the survey.
And it’s not just the holocaust. All over the world children are growing up without basic knowledge of history. Computers, STEM but no history.
Just look at the pandemic. If more of us would have known about its 1918 antecedent that might have informed our response. That might have even ended up saving lives.
Sadly, this has been going on for a while. Over 30 years ago, a book called What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? bemoaned the fact that on a national test only 32% could place the Civil War within the correct 50-year period and 28% thought Columbus’s voyage to the New World occurred between 1750 and 1850. Still, over the past several years scores have fallen, and the gap between high- and low-scorers has gotten larger.
Without realizing it Whoopi Goldberg may have done us all a favor by shining a light on this problem. We need to school ourselves and our children in history–all history.
As George Santayana famously said, “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The time to start remembering the past is now.