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Why We Need Holocaust Education Now More than Ever in America

Atrocities are already being committed in the US and abroad. We need Holocaust education so we know how bad it can get if we do nothing.

By Ben KharakhPublished 6 years ago 10 min read

The New York Times recently reported that the Holocaust is fading from memory. 31% of Americans and 41% of millennials think that under two million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Try 6 million. And 41% of Americans and 66% of Millennials don't know what Auschwitz was. Woof. And 52% of Americans don't know that Hitler was democratically elected. It sounds like a lot of people just aren't getting a Holocaust education at all! What they know about the Holocaust they know from popular culture osmosis. They might as well get their facts from Indiana Jones. YOU CAN'T SURVIVE A NUCLEAR BLAST IN A REFRIGERATOR!

These people are uneducated, but the even bigger problem is that they're not getting an education. What's class even about if it's not about the worst things that people do to each other and how to stop us from doing the worst things that people do to each other again?! Literally, right now, I can list enough horrible stuff that we're doing nothing about to make a whole battalion of hand turkeys. Hand me the colored crayons and I'll draw you a Thanksgiving of despair!

We need education because it teaches us just how easily people can find themselves committing unspeakable horrors against other people. Holocaust remembrance is important because we're always precariously close to repeating what we vowed to never repeat. Even today, around the world and in the United States, violence is directed at people simply because of their race, ethnicity, immigration status, and sexual or gender orientation. And there's just not enough popular support to stop these acts of violence. I have to sit with that awareness daily and just feel shitty. I have to accept that that's just what it means to be alive! We can seek utopia but it must be fought for if we want to meet there. Holocaust remembrance is one way we fight.

Holocaust survivors were liberated in 1945. That's 73 years ago. You can still meet a Holocaust survivor today, and many have only recently passed. Trauma does not disappear after a generation; it radiates outwards through the ages.

Enough Jews know that the poem ends with "Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me," that they're among the first to speak up in the face of injustice. "Hold my beer and watch this," should be the go-to response for Jews when they hear about injustice because enough Jews know they'll be among the first to be persecuted (if they're not being persecuted already).

That's just what happens when you belong to an ethnic and religious minority that's been subjected to discrimination for millennia. This feeds into both how many liberal and conservative Jews see themselves. In order to understand this, we need Holocaust education.

Know the steps countries take to enact ethnic cleansing.

We need to know how not to let it happen again. There was already anti-Semitism in Germany when Hitler came to power. Hitler significantly upped the ante with his rhetoric, much in the same way that President Sex Criminal talks about people of Latin descent, people of color, and immigrants. The stage is set for crimes against humanity when a country frames certain citizens as second class and passes laws that treat them as such.

In 1933, Hitler stripped Jews of their citizenship and annulled all marriages between Jews and Germans. Without the protection of citizenship, it was possible for the German government to subject Jews to harsh treatment and to deport recent Jewish immigrants. Later, Jews who had no citizenship because they were acquired over the course of Germany's war with Europe were moved to ghettos and concentration camps.

It's a big red flag when the government and police officers turn their backs on segments of the population and pass discriminatory laws. Unfortunately, in America, too many segments of the population are already treated as second class, which makes it difficult to both not normalize dehumanizing behavior and not dip into hyperbole. Suffice to say, how America treats too many of its own citizens is not acceptable and looks like a stepping stone toward atrocity if it's not already that.

Appreciate America's own horrors.

In order to identify the shortcomings of our own government, corporations, and citizenry, we need to learn about the Holocaust. People were as shocked by the ascendence of Hitler in Nazi Germany as they were by the number of people who supported him, even after learning of his numerous crimes against humanity. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. observed in his Letter From Birmingham Jail, there is no limit to wha, "the white moderate who is more devoted to 'order' than to justice," will support. America has been complicit in far too many atrocities to be thought of as a good actor on the global stage.

Presently, America's prison-industrial complex disproportionately houses people of color, which makes it tantamount to modern day slavery. The shameful history of the United State's colonialist relationship with Puerto Rico has recently been subjected to extreme negligence in the wake of Hurricane Maria. A true death toll will never even be known because PR was forced to burn its dead in the wake of Hurricane Maria! Meanwhile, America's military-industrial complex remains a money suck that drains invaluable resources. That's money that could be spent on US citizens or aid abroad. Instead it leads to America entering into inextricable war after war just so we can justify our bloated defense budget. And the cost of all these endeavors? Non-white bodies.

Then there are the companies. Coca-cola invented Fanta so that it could have a product to sell to Germans using all the Coca-cola factories in Germany. Dow Chemical provided a shocking amount of raw materials to the Nazis. General Motors helped build the vehicles that Germany used in Poland, France, and the USSR. And IBM provided machinery that helped Nazis keep track of and facilitate the Holocaust. That's what happens when your country's mantra is, "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." That's an invitation to be a bad person more than it is to care for others There's nothing in that mantra about care for others or being interdependent beings! It's not, "We're all in this together so let's be friends and help each other out!"

Hate is alive and well in the US.

The FBI considers white supremacist groups as much of a threat as ISIS. That's a big deal considering Donald Trump's social media ties to white supremacists! Once you get white supremacist lingo and conspiracy theories and after understanding men's rights activists and their lingo, you'll end up appreciating the sort of ideologies that facilitate genocides and hate crimes. And you'll be disappointed to learn how many people in America hold these views. Recognizing this type of hate is part of a Holocaust education.

When you make a hateful philosophy your own you also inherit its symbols and history, which means that contemporary bigotry has much in common with bigotry of the past. Antisemitic incidents in the US soared to the highest level in two decades after the election of Donald Trump, a man who sees white supremacist terrorism and says, "You also had some very fine people on both sides."

Understand propoganda.

There is a widespread prevalence of propaganda in American media. Propaganda only works when it expresses how you already feel as you consume it, which is why you don't become a Nazi just by reading Mein Kampf. What the success of propaganda demonstrates is just how many people already harbor the antagonistic feelings that a propagandist hopes to manipulate.

Rather than aligning themselves with the groups who are used as scapegoats by propagandists, white liberals too often engage in endless debate with those who've made the message of propaganda their own, which is exactly what the propagandist wants. Rather than form a powerful coalition with all those who oppose fascism, liberals vie for the support of conservatives.

In arguing, white liberals re-direct focus back to conservatives and away from those being marginalized by conservative policies. Liberals do this without even asking themselves why. That's how powerful implicit bias and systemic discrimination can be! Unconsciously, white liberals prioritize conservatives over those marginalized by conservative policy because the culture prioritizes conservatives over those that they marginalize. Those are all perks of being conservative! These problems will persist until white liberals who most benefit from the status quo stop arguing with conservatives and instead work with marginalized groups as equals to work toward an egalitarian society.

Genocides are happening right now.

We need good Holocaust education so that people don't think that ethnic cleansing is only something that happened once in the past as opposed to a recurring event in human history that must be actively opposed. There are enough governments with oppressive regimes and enough people who harbor hatred for others that genocides exist to this very day. And, just like with the Holocaust, countries ignore the warning signs of what's happening outside their own borders.

It's in South East Asia, Rohingya, "ethnic cleansing in Myanmar continues," according to Andrew Gilmour, the UN assistant secretary-general for human rights. Gilmour reported "widespread and systematic violence against the Rohingya," a Muslim minority of Myanmar. We have yet to get justice for gay and bisexual men murdered in Chechnya by the government. And since June 2016, the Phillippines’ “war on drugs” has served as a justification for President Rodrigo Duterte to kill over 12,000 people, primarily the urban poor. These are only three examples out of many more.

Appreciate how we fight for others.

World War II birthed countless heroes by putting people in the situation of having to either let atrocities go unchallenged or by putting their own lives on the line by protecting others. Every one who hid Jews or spoke out against the Nazi regime was acting bravely.

Holocaust education will inspire heroism today. We need people to speak out against bigotry in all its forms. We need people to assert that Black Lives Matter; believe the accounts of women about the sexism, harassment, and assault that they're subjected to; to campaign to gain full protection under the law for all people who identify as LGBTQI+, and to empower those who lack power in the United States and abroad. It's easier to find the strength to speak up when you know you're not the only one doing it.

Identify Fascists.

Holocaust education can help us identify the fourteen points of Fascism and our President that connect. We encounter people who have fascistic qualities quite often. For too many of us we are or have been in relationships with people just like this. These people are emotionally manipulative and abusive. President Sex Criminal is one of them.

The Worst of Us is constantly gaslighting people and attempting to minimize the harm he causes. He wants everything to be about him while also blaming other people for anything he does wrong. He says racist and sexist things regularly and issues threats. He plays the victim anytime someone calls him out on his behavior. And he's a pathological liar. The Pulitzer Prize-winning PolitiFact reported that a combined 69% of Trump’s claims earn a rank of (1) mostly false, (2) false, or (3) "pants on fire.” This is exactly how a fascist behaves.

Find strength in pain.

We have to answer the question of how we can be humane in a world that knows such inhumanity. There is great meaning to be found in the depths of human suffering in so far as meaning is often the expression of emotion. We are all bound up in trauma; some of us just put up walls to be less affected than others. But even those who shy away from feeling can't help but express emotion because we are all emotional beings.

We can validate the emotion of those who have lived through great tragedies, but that doesn't suffice in addressing the deep well of emotion that trauma can create. Sometimes drawing from that well creates great art or binds people together; sometimes that well is simply something we learn to sit with and accept. Some things are not okay and never will be, and in accepting this reality we can achieve a sense of peace with the everlasting struggle that human being entails.

Know how to stop a Holocaust.

We need Holocaust education to learn how to stop future genocides. Treating others as equals and standing up to bigotry are great ideas, but they actually need to be translated into action. Laws promoting government accountability and transparency are needed so that evil plans can never be made in secret, protections for all people must be passed to ensure that no one group can be made into a scapegoat, and we need a society dedicated to ensuring equal access to justice and flourishing under the law.

These are ideals that must be fought for in the present so that they can won in the future. The fight never stops, so expect to find yourself with plenty of opportunities to be heroic. Big or small, acts of bravery add up to change the world.

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About the Creator

Ben Kharakh

Manic pixie dream goth. With appearances in Fortune, Vice, Gothamist, and McSweeney's.@benkharakh

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