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March 10, 2021 3:07 pm

An Urgent Crisis: Holocaust Education Is Fading in America

avatar by Aliya Rosenthal


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

According to the US Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, 63 percent of millennials in the United States are unaware that six million innocent Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.

Despite this alarming figure, the requirement of Holocaust education is decreasing in America, while antisemitic attacks are rising rapidly.

Currently, only 16 out of 50 US states are required to teach about the Holocaust. This is grossly inadequate. It should be mandatory that all public schools in the United States have a detailed curriculum that includes Holocaust education, so that the lessons of the past are not forgotten or repeated.

Aside from a basic lack of knowledge about the Holocaust, a statistic published by the National Holocaust Museum shows that 10 percent of people believe that the Jews shoulder the blame for the Holocaust. But how can we expect others to know about what the Jewish people endured — and the related lessons on the dangers of extremism, intolerance, and prejudice — if we aren’t teaching it to them?

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Just as happened in the early 20th century, Jews are once again being blamed as scapegoats for all the world’s ills. And attacks against Jews are rising.

The number of antisemitic attacks in the US has risen dramatically over the past few years, spiking at an all-time high in 2019, an 18% increase from 2018. In the US, several Hillel and Chabad student buildings have recently been set on fire, synagogues have been targeted with antisemitic graffiti and threats, and Jews have been murdered by right-wing and left-wing extremists.

And what has been the country’s response? Eliminating the Holocaust from its social studies curricula.

For example, Minnesota (where I live) was set to review and revise its social studies curriculum for 2021. Although they had solicited and received feedback and assistance from local Jewish organizations, the Minnesota social studies review committee eliminated all mentions of the Holocaust in its first draft of revisions.

With the elimination of an already insufficient amount of Holocaust education, future students in Minnesota will not learn about the most horrific genocide in history. But as the amount of attacks against Jews is rising significantly, Holocaust education is more important than ever.

More than 12 million innocent people were murdered in the Holocaust, including six million Jews. How can we continue on in life without remembering those that were brutally tortured and killed for the simple fact of their religion, sexual orientation, or other social stigma? Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel would frequently say that if Holocaust victims are forgotten, they become today’s victims.

Holocaust education should be required in all public school curricula across the United States, and around the world. Without this education, not only will we be disgracing the memory of the millions who perished at the hands of the Nazi regime, but we will rob future generations of the critical knowledge required to fight antisemitism and intolerance today.

Aliya Rosenthal is a Hasbara Fellowships High School Intern in Minnesota.

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