Michali Cohen

Time to fix a system raising a generation engaging in Holocaust denial

Students raising hands in classroom.

Most of us will be the last generation to hear Holocaust stories from survivors. We will be the last people to hear stories directly from former Nazis, Jews who defied all odds stacked against them, and a generation of survivors who saw atrocities with their eyes.

I consider us lucky to be learning from these people, and yet Holocaust denial is on the rise in the United States. In a survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, 63 percent of respondents did not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, and half of those thought less than 2 million were murdered. Thinking about this generation, one in two millennials could not name one concentration camp.

There’s more.

I was shocked to find out from the survey that one in ten respondents never heard the word ‘Holocaust’ before.

These findings led me to enter the world of Jewish activism through Jewish on Campus, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism on college campuses. The organization gives Jewish students a platform to share their stories of antisemitism. Through that, I have witnessed, first-hand, the outcomes from the lack of Holocaust education, especially in academic environments.  

At American University, a Jewish student was called a “Zionist Nazi.” At the University of Connecticut, a professor said, “Germany was as bad to the Jews as the Israelis are to Palestinians now.” At Hofstra University, one professor told a Jewish student that they don’t look Jewish and could have ripped their Star of David off and “gone on with their lives.” At Cornell University, a student said they didn’t feel like they needed to learn about the Holocaust because antisemitism isn’t an issue anymore. There are countless stories similar to these happening daily on college campuses in the United States.

Every day as I log on to Twitter or Instagram, I witness the growing trend and normalization of Holocaust denial and distortion. Recently, Anne Frank was trending on Twitter because users were calling her a white colonizer and that her diary was boring. In the headlines, anti-lockdown protestors in the United Kingdom wore yellow Stars of David carrying signs saying “COVID-19 Vaccine Holocaust.” On Twitter and Instagram, there is a growing trend of equating Israel and Zionists to Nazi Germany and the Nazis and former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Adolf Hitler.

As my parents and mentors have taught me, do not just state a problem–find the solution. Here is the way to counter the Holocaust denial:

  1. Make Holocaust education  mandatory for all schools in the United States starting in elementary school through high school. Currently, only 19 states require secondary schools to teach about the Holocaust.
  2. Change the way the Holocaust is talked about and explain how it happened. The way the Holocaust is taught simplifies it to a history lesson: One day a man named Adolf Hitler came to power, murdered 6 million Jews ,and then he committed suicide. The Holocaust did not happen in one day, anti-Jewish sentiment started from the end of World War One, after the Treaty of Versailles with humiliation for Germans, and severe economic inflation. It started with comments and thoughts from German civilians towards Jews, leading to boycotts of Jewish businesses, rescinding Jewish people’s legal rights, and excluding Jews from civil society. This story is the lead up to the Holocaust where two out of three Jewish Europeans were murdered.
  3. Explain the number six million. From 1933, when the first concentration camp Dachu was built, to May 1945, when World War Two ended, six million Jews were murdered as well as Roma, mentally and physically disabled, disadents, and Black people.  Let’s teach in schools what the number of 6 million people looks like and contemplate how it only took four years by murdering thousands of people a day.
  4. Dismantle cultural falsehoods that delegitmize this genocide. At the University of Georgia, a professor said that Jews are dramatic when it comes to the Holocaust and if Jews just pretended they weren’t Jewish, they would have lived. At Hofstra University, a student said that people only care about the Holocaust because Jews are white. People say these inaccurate statements because of how theNazis viewed Jews. We need to change the lens we look when teaching about the Holocaust. Nazis viewed the Jewish people as an inferior race, and compared Jews to rats. Look at the Nuremberg Race Laws, one can come to the conclusion that this was not a “white-on-white” hate crime, but a solution to purify Germany through genocide.

We need to address the normalization of Holocaust denial at its core: lack of proper education.  We can fix the flawed educational curriculum with knowledge that gives students a deeper understanding of the Holocaust and how it happened.

Holocaust denial, the rise of antisemitism, the increase in hate crimes towards Jews––we can do better as a country. Millennials and Gen Z are the future leaders, let’s educate them.

About the Author
Michal Cohen has worked in the Jewish non-profit space for the last three years, starting as a college student at American University. She is a first-generation Israeli-American passionate about campus antisemitism and bridging the gap between Israelis and Jews in the Diaspora.
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