The case for Holocaust education in a post-10/7 world

November 14, 2023

By Dr. Michelle Friedman (YCT Sharon and Steven Lieberman Chair of Pastoral Counseling) for Religion News

Since the horrific attack by Hamas against Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, it’s been pointed out numerous times that the massacre constituted the single most deadly day for Jews since the Holocaust. As important as the number alone is the targets: The more than 1,200 slaughtered, most of whom were tortured and terrorized first, Hamas’ victims, like those of ISIS and the Nazis, were ordinary people killed simply for who they were.

Brutality is shocking and incomprehensible on its own. The comparisons between 10/7 and the Shoah are meant to recall that violence against Jews is a dark and dangerous current in human history. But recalling the Holocaust only has value if listeners have a baseline literacy about what the Holocaust actually was.

The sad fact is that, even discounting the pathology of Holocaust denial, there is woeful ignorance about the Nazi campaign to exterminate world Jewry in the 1930s and ’40s. According to a 2020 survey by the Claims Conference, almost two-thirds (63%) of Americans ages 18-39 do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. Almost half (48%) could not name one concentration camp or ghetto.

Even many people with some knowledge of the Holocaust have no idea that centuries of persecution, evictions, pogroms and murderous campaigns against Jews preceded the Nazis’ so-called Final Solution.

Delivering meaningful Holocaust education presents challenges. For starters, not only do many countries provide zero curriculum, at the present time fewer than half of U.S. states mandate teaching about the Shoah. In the past, many programs relied on the powerful experience of actual survivors coming into classrooms and speaking with students. As fewer and fewer witnesses remain alive, this firsthand experience will no longer be available.

But details matter. We cannot shorthand the Shoah.

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