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Susan L.M. Goldberg


November 8, 2013 - 10:00 am
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This week will mark the 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, a 2 day anti-Jewish pogrom that swept through Germany, Austria and the Sudetenland. ”Instigated by the Nazi regime, rioters burned or destroyed 267 synagogues, vandalized or looted 7,500 Jewish businesses, and killed at least 91 Jewish people. They also damaged many Jewish cemeteries, hospitals, schools, and homes as police and fire brigades stood aside.” Kristallnacht is commemorated, not only for those who have lost, but as a “turning point in Nazi anti-Jewish policy that would culminate in the Holocaust.”

Today the Holocaust education community faces many challenges including the implementation of Common Core and the passing of the last generation of Holocaust survivors. One of the most striking challenges, however, remains to be the sheer lack of Holocaust knowledge among today’s youth. Recently, one Pennsylvania educator took her state to task via YouTube. Rhonda Fink-Whitman, a second generation survivor, trekked the campuses of Temple University, Drexel University and Penn State in search of PA high school grads with a basic knowledge of the Holocaust.

The results were frightening. Visibly caught off guard, the best most students could muster was, “I don’t know,” to most of the questions asked. When one student was asked what other groups, besides the Jewish people, were targeted by the Nazis, she guessed “African Americans” because the “whites especially..American people used to put them aside.” When Fink-Whitman clarified that she was inquiring about Nazi persecution in Europe the student reverted back to, “I don’t know.” These best and brightest couldn’t identify the purpose (or location) of D-Day, either.

Near the end of the video, Fink-Whitman finds one student who possesses substantially more knowledge about the Holocaust than her peers. This student attended high school in New York State, one of five states in the country that has a mandated Holocaust education program.

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Back in '98 or '99 during my exile from the Executive Branch, I took some college courses one of which was called "Seminar on the Holocaust." It was a 400 Level, 3 credit hour, full semester course. The prerequisites were 9 hours of History or professor's permission. There were around 30 students who actually showed up most of the time, half a dozen adults and the rest true college-age students.

Frankly, my whole experience of going back to college, the modern equivalent of going to the monastery when you got cross-threaded with the King, was appalling. I quickly learned that all the bad thoughts I'd had about public schools in recent times were wrong: it is far worse than I'd ever imagined. Most kids came out of High School functionally illiterate and innumerate, requiring a year or more of zero level remedial classes before they could even get into 100 Level classes dumbed down to early high school levels. But, they all had come out of HS with three and change GPAs and LOTS of self-esteem.

Back to the Holocaust class, there weren't ten of the thirty or so could have put the Holocaust in the Second World War, put the Second World War in the right century, or who could have identified any of the issues or major combatants. Now, granted, this was a satellite campus of the University of Alaska and Alaska's best and brightest generally go to school Outside (and don't come back to Alaska), but I saw it with my own kids; they simply don't teach anything about US and Western history and culture. It is easy to understand why so many young people can support someone as un-, even anti-, American as Barack Obama; they don't know anything about being an American except through the lens of movies, TV, and popular culture. We now have a generation or two who view being American about the same way they view being a fan of some professional sports team or of some musical group.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
A crucial failing of our education system in general. Don't they understand? The Jews in Europe were the "Canary in the Coal Mine," and as they went, so went others to follow. One of the greatest tragedies to befall a people of all time, and the largest war in human history, and they know none of it.

Well, except for slur-words they get wrong, such as "Nazi," or "Fascist," and they don't even understand their meaning.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Two points.

1) I do not support top-down mandates on what is to be included in school curricula. That should be the business of local school districts or individual schools. If a community decides that knowing about Holocaust is less important to its children than another women's studies program, then that community deserves the children it will get.

2) I do not understand how someone can be a second-generation survivor of anything. One either survived something, or one didn't, or one simply wasn't there. This "Nth-generation survivor" nonsense is insulting to real survivors and to the memory of those who didn't survive.
It is also as fake as the "Nth-generation Palestinian refugee."

One of my parents got evacuated in time to escape the German occupation that a lot of my other relatives didn't survive. Does that make me a second-generation Holocaust survivor or a second-generation evacuee? My grandfather and uncle fought the Nazis all the way to Berlin. Does that make me a second or third generation war hero? This is idiocy.
1 year ago
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