Culture

75 Years Later, You Can't Forget What You Don't Know

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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Fink-Whitman’s motivation behind making the video was to promote the passing of legislation that would mandate Holocaust education in Pennsylvania. The legislation isn’t likely to budge; politicians simply don’t want to create a line-item in the state budget to fund Holocaust programming. Instead, what appears more likely to pass is a hybrid mandate that would allow the school districts to decide whether or not the Holocaust is worthy of inclusion in their curriculum. If they choose to include the Holocaust, the state would then fund teacher training.

For those living in states where the Holocaust isn’t deemed worthy of a dime, there are vast Holocaust education resources available online through the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yad Vashem, and Facing History and Ourselves. Recently, the Shoah Foundation partnered with Yad Vashem and the Anti-Defamation League to produce Echoes and Reflections, a multimedia curriculum on the Holocaust for 21st century learners.

Along with having a complete list of resources online, the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education has their entire K-12 Holocaust curriculum collection online, free for the downloading to anyone around the world. Resource Centers exist around the state offering programming and educational materials as well as research resources for teachers, administrators, home schooling parents, and students of all ages. To find a Holocaust resource center near you, consult with the Association of Holocaust Organizations online.

November 9-10 marks the 75th Anniversary of Kristallnacht. Find an event near you and attend. Perhaps you will be able to tell your grandchildren about the time you saw and heard a survivor speak. Most importantly, the education that results from your experience will ensure that future generations will have something to remember and Never Forget.