For most of us when we think of Holocaust education we imagine it as positive – teaching the horrors of what happened in the past so that these can never be allowed to happen again. Recently, though, in connection with my nonfiction Holocaust theater project www.ThinEdgeOfTheWedge.com and the recently launched NEVER AGAIN IS NOW podcast about antisemitism, I have realized that Holocaust education can be twisted.
This “twisting,” whether purposely or unintentionally, can perpetrate the kinds of propaganda that led to the murder of six million Jewish men, women and children along with millions of others including Roma, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and political and clerical dissidents.
One podcast episode featured author Liza Wiemer, whose YA novel THE ASSIGNMENT has received multiple awards. The story is a fictional one of two high school seniors who fight against a class assignment requiring them to defend the Nazis’ Final Solution to eliminate all the Jews of Europe.
While the novel is an excellent one, what is frightening is that this fiction story is inspired by true events that took place in Oswego, New York, in 2017.
And, as author Liza Wiemer knows, similar despicable assignments continue to be given out in schools in the U.S.
What does this mean for us?
It means we have to pay attention to the Holocaust lesson plans being taught, especially in places where the education is mandated although perhaps not wanted. We cannot blithely assume that all Holocaust education is a positive learning experience for ending antisemitism.
And we have to speak up if we come across despicable assignments – or ones that have the potential for turning despicable because of lack of knowledge on the part of the teachers giving out the assignments.
Speaking up is often not easy, especially if you are a student speaking up about your teacher’s assignment. Getting help from other adults or from organizations can be one way to get more “right” on your side.
In another podcast episode co-host Evelyn Markus and I interviewed Luke Berryman, founder of The Ninth Candle (https://theninthcandle.com/). We discussed how Luke’s organization works with teachers and students “where they are at.” The Ninth Candle does not use a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead the organization tailors its educational work for the specific needs of the project.
As the number of living Holocaust survivors rapidly diminishes — reducing the cadre of speakers at schools — increased vigilance must be paid to how Holocaust education is being taught. It would be a terrible injustice if the lesson plans meant to teach against hatred of Jews are twisted into perpetrating antisemitism.
We all need to stay vigilant about what is being taught as Holocaust education!