I’ll Take Holocaust Denial Over Holocaust Ignorance

As a writer for the nonprofit Kars4Kids, I think a lot about kids and education. So two videos I recently came across struck a chord with me.

The first really shocked me, in a very sad way. My maternal grandparents were Holocaust survivors and my parents’ congregation included many others. I took for granted that the Holocaust was as much a part of American consciousness as, say, the American Revolution, the Cold War, or any other part of history. Who did I know that never heard of Adolf Hitler, Kristalnacht and Auschwitz? No one. (And I’m only 23, by the way.)

So the 94 Maidens video that I saw on Kveller was a major eye-opener for me. (definitely worth a watch, btw.) Educator Rhonda Fink-Whitman asked many college students in Pennsylvania basic questions about the Holocaust- what it is, where it happened, who was targeted- we’re talking really basic here- and the majority of them did not know any of the answers. They came off sounding painfully ignorant. (One girl did not even know who Winston Churchill was. Something to do with the military, she thought. Which military? Oh, that’s easy. Of course the US military. Even sadder, when asked what the word genocide means, one girl replied, “I’m pretty sure I’ve heard that word before but I’m not sure what it means.”) Many of these young men and women seemed very intelligent and studious.

(As an aside, I also found it interesting to see how they answered the questions they clearly did not know the answers to. Some just said straight out, “I don’t know” or “I’m not sure” but many were like, “I want to say [wrong answer] but I could be wrong” or starting answering in a very vague way, saying they couldn’t explain it exactly.)

There were a couple of girls from non-Pennsylvania public schools who were very familiar with the Holocaust- because Holocaust education is mandated in their states. That was refreshing, but I was still surprised when one of them said she’d never met a Holocaust survivor. Her school had tried to arrange for one to come down but it didn’t work out. That shook me up a bit. Are Holocaust survivors really that hard to find? I never thought of the Holocaust survivors I knew, and was related to, as such a rare species.

The students serious lack of knowledge about the Holocaust and World War II in general made me wonder about how much other history they learned in school. Did they know about Nixon and the Watergate scandal? The War of 1812? (OK, I confess, beyond the name I’m not sure I know much about that one either.) What about Darfur? Did they ever hear of the Armenian genocide? It was very sad commentary of the sorry and pathetic state of education in many US public schools.

Another point: some of these students were clearly not Jewish, but many of them could have been. How many Jewish public school kids are there out there who have no clue what the Holocaust was? (In my opinion, if the Holocaust will be the extent of their knowledge of Judaism, better they shouldn’t know about it anyway. Why should their impression of being Jewish be all negative?)

On to the second video, on the Oorah Spirit, for much better news. At a Bronx Youth Poetry Slam, Ethan Metzger, a Jewish public school student, poignantly answers a classmate’s accusation that his parents brainwashed him to believe in his religion. This one is definitely worth a watch. This teenager’s courage, moral integrity, conviction and strength will restore your belief in the future of the Jewish nation.


About the Author
Rivka Kirwan is the director of media relations at Kars4Kids, a nonprofit based in New Jersey, where she lives with her husband and two young children. If it were up to her, she'd be living in Israel, which she grew to love in the year she spent there post-high school.
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