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.