William Daroff

Remembering the Holocaust: Connecting Education and Action

On April 17-18, 2023, we will once again observe Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. This annual event serves as a time to reflect, honor, and remember the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust. In echoing the sentiment “Never Again,” we recognize the horrors of the past and the dire need to prevent such atrocities from happening in the future. Though the number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling, their legacy remains firmly intact, immortalized in thousands of hours of audio and video tape – a testament for all time of what happens when antisemitism is allowed to run rampant.

Antisemitism is on the rise once again in the United States and across the world. How should we – who acknowledge and mourn the events of the Holocaust, the results of seething hatred – prevent another Shoah? What can we do to put “Never Again” into action?”

Education is the key.

A recent survey conducted by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)’s Center for Antisemitism Research found that individuals who participate in Holocaust education are less likely to believe antisemitic tropes. This confirms the importance of early and ongoing Holocaust education in combating antisemitism and other forms of hatred. Unfortunately, the same survey revealed that there are still significant knowledge gaps among younger generations about the Holocaust, with up to one-quarter of young Americans not fully understanding it. Even university professors tell us that their students do not completely grasp the twentieth century destruction of European Jewry.

Formal Holocaust education remains crucial to close this gap. It is essential that young people are taught about the Holocaust, not only to understand the history, but to develop empathy and to recognize the consequences of hatred and bigotry on a global scale. Children need to learn the lessons of the Holocaust so that they are empowered to stand up against intolerance and injustice in their own communities. Holocaust education is an important step in understanding the links between historical discrimination and present-day discrimination. As we learned from a recent Claims Conference study on Holocaust education, not all Holocaust education is the same. Even in states with Holocaust education mandates, we are failing to teach the connection between the past and the current rise in antisemitism.

It is up to parents, educators, and community leaders to ensure that the next generation has a deep understanding of both the sordid realities of the Holocaust, as well as its continued impact on modern society. Holocaust awareness is part of a larger push to implement anti-bias education.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is a leader in K-12 Holocaust education efforts. We help to ensure that Holocaust education is a required part of the curriculum in many U.S. states. However, state Holocaust education mandates are not sufficient – there must be a focus on educators, in order to ensure that they have a deep and nuanced understanding of the subject matter and how it relates to contemporary manifestations of antisemitism. Education about the Holocaust should not stop at the high school level. We must also provide opportunities for learning and engagement beyond the classroom and past the twelfth grade – at universities, in our workplaces, and in our communities.

Survey data from the One8 foundation and the ADL also report that having Jewish friends does not correlate with diminished negative views of Jews and belief in antisemitic tropes. This demonstrates that education, not just socialization, is key to dismantling biases and prejudices. It is not enough to rely solely on personal relationships to combat discrimination. We need to educate ourselves and reach out to others about the history and experience of the Jewish people, to build understanding and empathy.

With a rising tide of violence threatening Jews in Israel and the United States, we must take action. We must speak out against hate speech and hate crimes, support policies and legislation that promote equality and justice, and engage in interfaith and intercultural dialogue to promote understanding and build bridges across communities.

Even as the Holocaust unfolded, Emanuel Ringelblum, the historian and head of social services in the Warsaw Ghetto, understood the need for a monument to the ravages of antisemitism and inhumanity. He and his cohorts embarked on one of the first Holocaust education efforts – gathering diaries, data, artifacts and more from the ghetto and depositing them into milk cans and boxes that would be discovered after the war. Ringelblum knew how potent awareness of the destruction of European Jewry would be. It is in the spirit and memory of Ringelblum and the six million of his fellow victims that we must continue to expand our Holocaust education efforts.

About the Author
William Daroff is CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the senior professional guiding the Conference’s agenda on behalf of its 50 national member organizations, which represent the wide mosaic of American Jewish life. Follow him at @Daroff