Before Pesach there was renewed criticism about the inadequate quality of general studies being provided by some of the yeshivos. I am not going to pursue that topic in this article, but I will rather make mention of the strange irony that occurred with the findings of a recent poll conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany. Shockingly, two-thirds of American millennials (those with public school secular education) surveyed could not identify Auschwitz. Some 66 percent of the millennials could not come up with a correct answer, that it was a concentration camp or extermination camp. They’d never heard of it. Nor did they have any concept of the magnitude of the killing of the six million k’doshim. They have no idea that two-thirds of European Jewry were slaughtered. No matter what one says about the lack of quality of secular education in some yeshivos, Jewish students know about the Shoah. I think that the critics should take pause.
Many Americans are impervious to the atrocities of the Shoah. They are forgetting about that horrific time in world history. What the findings really showed, however, was that Americans don’t learn enough about the subject to forget about it in the first place. It is a failure in education.
Karol Markowicz wrote in a New York Post opinion piece last week: “With the recent spike in anti-Semitism across the world – including the European ground where it happened the first time – remembering how the Holocaust happened, how it developed, how responses to it evolved, etc., becomes a much more important task.”
She continued: “There are 60 Holocaust museums and memorials throughout the United States. Visiting them should be part of the curriculum of any school in the vicinity of one of them. It shouldn’t stop at high school either. Any world history course that includes study of the 20th century should be spending some time on the Holocaust in depth.”
It is a shanda that people could be so uninformed as not to know what Auschwitz is and what it represents. How can one criticize yeshivos when Americans are so ignorant? Even though the US Holocaust Memorial Museum promulgates that at least 1.3 million people were deported to the infamous death camp run by Nazi Germany in Poland from 1940-1945, and 1.1 million of them were murdered, most millennials are totally oblivious to it all. “The survey found that there are critical gaps both in awareness of basic facts as well as detailed knowledge of the Holocaust,” read a news release of the findings.
Despite the lack of historical knowledge, the survey found one bright note, which is a desire for Holocaust education: 93 percent said, in response to a question in the study, that all students should learn about the Shoah in school. “This study underscores the importance of Holocaust education in our schools,” said Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Claims Conference, in a statement. “There remains troubling gaps in Holocaust awareness while survivors are still with us; imagine when there are no longer survivors here to tell their stories.”
To help remedy this problem, a bipartisan group of US House of Representatives members is set to introduce a bill that would grant money for Holocaust education in schools across the country. The Never Again Education Act would establish the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund within the Department of Education that would provide grants to both public and private middle and high schools to assist teachers in developing curriculum and programming for instructing students about the Holocaust. The fund will be supported exclusively by private donations and not from taxpayer dollars. Rep. Carolyn Maloney is the lead sponsor of the measure. When questioned as to the intent of the congressional bill, she replied, “As the saying goes: If we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. This bipartisan legislation gives our teachers what they need to teach the Holocaust accurately and effectively. We know that hate is learned. Our children are not born with prejudices, and it is up to us to make sure they never learn them.” She went on to comment, “Today those who deny that the Holocaust occurred or distort the true nature of the Holocaust continue to find forums, especially online; this denial and distortion dishonors those who were persecuted and murdered.”
How can one criticize yeshivos when
Americans are so ignorant?
In the draft of the bill, it states, “This makes it even more of a national imperative to educate students in the United States so that they may explore the lessons that the Holocaust provides for all people, sensitize communities to the circumstances that gave rise to the Holocaust, and help youth be less susceptible to the falsehood of Holocaust denial and distortion and to the disruptive messages of hate that arise from Holocaust denial and distortion.” The legislation will include a website that would include badly needed Holocaust education resources.
We Jews can’t help being sensitive to any gassing atrocity. Many of us were painfully reliving history at the lack of interest once again to this type of barbarism and the world’s lack of caring as to what’s happening now in Syria, where the regime continues to chemically attack its own citizens. It seems that we haven’t learned anything since World War II. During the Shoah, the world claimed that they didn’t know what was going on, so they couldn’t do anything about the slaughter of Jews. But in this era of 24/7 news coverage and social media, we saw it all on television and computer screens – even visions of children foaming at the mouth and dying before our eyes – but still there was the lack of interest. That was until President Trump stepped up to the plate. We Americans should take pride in our president, who has taken this seriously. His administration put together a coalition of allies to address the blatant indifference to humanity shown by Bashar Assad by destroying some of his chemical facilities. Assad has been getting away with literally murder for years now, and it is time to stop him.
The United States has accused the Syrian government last week of using banned chemical weapons at least 50 times since Syria’s civil war began seven years ago. The accusation was made by US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley during a meeting of the Security Council. Ms. Haley said, “Let’s be clear: Assad’s most recent use of poison gas against the people of Douma was not his first, second, third, or even 49th use of chemical weapons. The United States estimates that Assad has used chemical weapons in the Syrian war at least 50 times. Public estimates are as high as 200.”
Let the lessons of the Shoah be the guide to inform the next generation that the Holocaust happened, and instill in them the moral compass needed to make sure something like that never happens again – otherwise, it could and, G-d forbid, would.
Cynthia Zalisky is the Executive Director of the Queens Jewish Community. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org