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July 15, 2019 6:58 am

We Need Educators Who Understand — and Can Impart — the Lessons of the Holocaust

avatar by Marvin Hier and Abraham Cooper

Opinion

The main gate at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Photo: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum.

In an alarming example of intersectionality and cluelessness colliding on the topic of the Holocaust, a principal at a Florida high school recently refused to acknowledge the murder of six million Jews as a factual historical event.

In recent months, Americans have witnessed besotted middle schoolers playing Swastika beer pong, southern California junior hockey players giving the Sieg Heil, and a high school teacher who heaped praise on Hitler in a graduation yearbook.

But the Boca Raton principal incident involved an adult put in charge of educating and nurturing a few hundred American teens on the cusp of adulthood. “Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened,” Principal William Latson wrote to a parent concerned about how the Holocaust was being taught at Spanish River Community High School.

“I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee,” Latson said in an email to the mother of a student at the school.

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“You have your thoughts, but we are a public school, and not all of our parents have the same beliefs,” he wrote. “I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly.”

Mr. Latson has been removed from his job and given other (non-student related, we hope) tasks. For some, that’s not enough; they want him fired.

We are more interested to learn from the ex-principal. We would ask: What exactly were you thinking? Are you a Holocaust-denier? Do you believe that history should be treated as a College Advanced Placement exam with multiple correct answers? As an “educator,” do you believe that what you feel about history is more important than historical truth?

To be sure, there are millions of parents who think the Holocaust should not be taught to their children, and who don’t believe that the Nazis murdered six million Jews. But most of those people don’t live in democracies; they live under brutal regimes, perhaps in Iran, or under the sway of virulent Islamist Jew-hatred.

Yet this might be the right time to restate why Holocaust education is so important right here in the United States.

The mind-numbing statistics of this genocide should be only the beginning of the learning curve for young Americans. The most important lesson is to teach young people that there is good and evil in the world, and that each person is constantly challenged to choose between good, evil, and apathy.

Young people need to be taught — and the adults guiding their lives need to be reminded — that the Nazis sought to destroy the Jewish people and obliterate values such as justice, fairness, and empathy. They almost succeeded, because of choices the perpetrators and bystanders made while their neighbors were hauled off to be killed.

In the 21st century, these basic values of humanity remain under assault. Social media has bestowed on every individual a voice and a choice — to do good or to empower evil.

The lessons of the past have never been more timely or relevant. We need educators and leaders who understand those lessons and have the capacity and wisdom to impart them to new generations. And let us all remember the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a wise former US senator and ambassador to the United Nations: “You are entitled to your opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.”

Rabbi Marvin Hier is founder and dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization named for the famed Nazi hunter and Holocaust survivor. Rabbi Abraham Cooper is the associate dean and director of global social action for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. 

A version of this article was originally published by The Hill.

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