Why Should Students Study the Holocaust?

By Heather Bentley
Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

An important question was raised this year on the <iearn.hgp> conference about whether the topic of the Holocaust should be taught in schools around the world. This question was discussed globally, via e-mail, by students ages fourteen to eighteen who were from various ethnic and religious backgrounds. Ninety-eight percent of the students who responded felt that the Holocaust was a very important topic and should be discussed in schools. The majority of the participants felt strongly that if we do not learn from past mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them.

[ Students Seated at Computers ]

Left to Right: Ariel Raber, Ari Ellis,
Sharon Yellen, and Amy Balfour

Students also discussed the question of the relevance of Holocaust education in today's world. Many of the students cited examples of genocide that are currently taking place throughout the world.

Shana Hildebrand, a student at Cold Spring Harbor High School, said, "Sarajevo is similar to another Holocaust. So what effect does education have if another Holocaust is happening again?"

Many students echoed Shana with the feeling that the genocide in Sarajevo is a problem that will disappear once our parents' generation and their parents' generations are no longer world leaders. Future generations may have the chance to eliminate ignorance, denial, racism, anti-semitism, and prejudice. If our generation is taught not to hate, then prejudice should not survive in the world.

Ignorance and denial are two of the causes as to why history repeats itself. Many people deny that the Holocaust ever existed, which is something that numerous teens responded to with shock and horror. One student, Ronit Aviv, from Heschel Day School in California, said, "there is proof: the remains of the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the pictures, the loss of family members, the pain, and of course, the survivors. How could someone deny the Holocaust when there's proof everywhere?" Numerous other students agreed with Ronit.

[ Student Art About the Holocaust ]

Student Art by Tom Parker, AETI Staff Artist

Using computers and modems, students wrote to each other about how they are disappointed with the lack of information about the Holocaust that is available in their textbooks. Jaime Baldante, from Cold Spring Harbor High School, said, "In most of my social studies textbooks, there is only a paragraph or a few sentences about the Holocaust. This, in my opinion, is not sufficient education for our society today. Educating the youth is the only way we can help to fight the negligent attitude which has been shown throughout the years."

Ariana Silberfeld, from Heschel Day School in Los Angeles, California said, "I think that the Holocaust needs to be taught to the younger generation. In teaching children from the ages of ten to fifteen, a larger understanding of the roots of the Holocaust will occur."

In some schools, it is suggested in the English curriculum that students read Night, by Elie Weisel, The Cage, by Ruth Sender, Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, and other literature related to the Holocaust. Students, who do have some type of curriculum dealing with the Holocaust in their school, feel that it's also up to them to meet survivors, listen to their stories and understand as much as possible about the Holocaust in order to pass that knowledge on to future generations.

It is for these reasons that many of the students involved with this discussion on the <iearn.hgp> conference feel very strongly that the Holocaust must be taught. Despite the fact that decades have passed since the Holocaust, genocide is still a problem in our world.

Below is a sample of the dialogue that occurred dealing with the question: Should students study the Holocaust?

". . . While I was watching the Oprah Winfrey show yesterday, Oprah revealed an astounding statistic. Did you know that one out of every three people doesn't even know what the Holocaust was or when it took place? I don't understand how people couldn't know about this. It was one of the most tragic events in history and a lot of people are uneducated about what it was."

Amy McElroy, Spokane Valley High School, Washington

". . . At the first second, after I had heard the question, I remained without an answer. . . . I was there in Poland and saw!. . . Children must learn in order to know that the human mind can invent such a terrible thing as the Final Solution."

Irit Raz, ORT Motzkin Comprehensive High School, Israel

". . . One thing you mentioned was about how the Holocaust is not one of the most enjoyable subjects, but it is essential to know about. Otherwise, it will just happen all over again -- the racism, genocide, everything. I know some people who are very racist, and it drives me crazy."

Jen Papa, Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

". . . You said that most people today exhibit prejudice simply because they know little about Jews, not because they hate them. Jews are not the only people who experience prejudice. Look at black people; they have to deal with so much prejudice and so do other minorities. Sometimes, even I, as a German, feel like I'm being judged. Sometimes when I meet someone Jewish, I am afraid to tell them I'm German. . . ."

Julia Fries, Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

". . . In a way the same sort of things happen today with people being racist towards other religions or races. . . ."

Eric Linder, Heschel Day School, California

". . . It is essential for children to learn about the Holocaust. Soon the people who survived the Holocaust will die. We will be the only ones left to tell the story of the Holocaust. In order to tell the story, you need to know the facts of the Holocaust. The Holocaust should also teach people how to treat others. . . "

Shoshanna Feldman, Heschel Day School

". . . My grandfather was a survivor of the Holocaust. He lived in Lodz, Poland before the Holocaust. When the Nazis came, they took everyone to concentration camps. My grandfather ended up in Buchenwald, a Nazi work camp in Germany. He spent about four years there and in other camps. When he was liberated, he spent five years in German hospitals before coming to Los Angeles in 1951. In Poland, my grandfather had a wife and son (whom I'm named after). They were all killed by the Nazis. . . . The Holocaust is not just important for Jews to remember, but also for the rest of the world. Those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Six million Jews died in the Holocaust, and another six million perished at the hands of the Nazis. It is important to learn about the Holocaust so that nothing like it doesn't happen ever again."

Ari Ellis, Heschel Day School, California

". . . Mr. Coppinger, my teacher has been showing us slides about the Holocaust and the Yad-Vashem. This is the first time at school that we have studied this topic. . . . The slides have made a very big impact on me and will probably take a while to digest. I am disgusted at the horrible things that were done to the Jews, and I am willing to work with some people on a small project dealing with this subject.

Jasmin Shackleton, Broadford Secondary, Australia

". . . Shalom! As one who grew up in Israel, I know, and I am familiar with the story of the Holocaust. . . . Even in kindergarten, we learned about it. When you read about the story of one family or one person and then imagine these things happening to six million people, it is beyond normal comprehension."

Michal Dady, ORT Eilat School, Israel

". . . The lesson of the Holocaust for kids today is not to persecute people because of their individuality; don't just ignore events like that, but try to do something to stop them. Don't base decisions on race, religion or sex. We believe that people shouldn't give in to ignorance."

Lisa Witthuhn, Marie Nelson, Katie Sturino, Jeni Knee, Sara Ochs,
and Mike Reagan; Hudson High School, Wisconsin

". . . Horrible things have happened, are happening and will continue to happen if peace and tolerance are not taught. Family teachings aren't always enough. The school should be involved because that is the place where many different groups learn to assimilate for the first time. . . . . I wonder how many more people will die before people realize the power of hate.

Samantha Kipling, Cold Spring Harbor High School, New York

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