Washington Middle School
Eighth graders from Washington Middle School, Olympia, Washington, studied the Holocaust and then wrote essays about their educational experience. These essays represent several that were sent to the HGP by teacher Marilyn Piper. All of the student essays can be found on the iearn.hgp conference.
Has the Holocaust taught me anything 50 years after the liberation of the death camps?
Fifty years after the liberation of the Nazi death camps, studying the Holocaust has taught me a lot. I hold many strong feelings and opinions about this subject. I believe World War II was started because of strong passionate drive for power that grew inside the heart of one man and spread to many others. One man named Adolf Hitler filled people's heads with propaganda in order to become dictator of Germany. Adolf Hitler was a powerful speaker, and with this talent, he convinced Germany that he could bring the country out of economic depression by providing jobs and building a stronger government and army. I think deep down that Hitler held a lot of prejudice against Jewish people, feelings that had been developing since his childhood. He blamed the Jews because he knew there were already people who held an underlying prejudice against Jewish people and he knew if he could use them as a scapegoat for the poor condition of the economy, he could get other people to follow him.
I have had the unique opportunity to listen to the story of a death camp survivor. The one thing Mr. Thomas Toivi Blatt said that had a big impact on me was, "Don't hate a hateful person; hate hate itself." To me this means you have to try and understand hateful people and help them to change their hateful feelings, help them understand why they feel the way they do so that ethnic cleansings like the Holocaust don't happen again.
One of the reasons the Holocaust was so successful was because no one really believed it until it was too late. We can't be blinded by the problems of our own country when people in another country are losing their lives because of their race or religious beliefs. We must all try to prevent history from repeating itself. To do this we must try and reverse our feelings of prejudice, not make fun of our differences, but honor and accept them. When we hear about the slaughtering and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia and Rwanda, we musn't turn our heads or close our eyes. We must investigate and help those people. We must speak up not only for ourselves but for each other. I hope by having everybody learn what happened in Europe, we can erase our feelings of hate and prejudice and make sure that nothing like the Holocaust happens again.
The Holocaust was an event that, though denied by some, will forever be remembered as one of the world's greatest tragedies. We learned a lot from that horrific period in time, but mostly we learned the extent of the faults in human nature. The Germans were the perfect example of our willingness to believe in a time of need. What they needed was an escape, a way to gain what they once had, and someone to blame for their problems. Hitler gave them that opportunity, that way to prove that they could not be shoved around or knocked down. It is not entirely their fault for believing in Hitler. After all, who wouldn't like to be told that they are the best at everything and that they should be looked up to? As Hitler idolized the perfect race and preached nationalism and global domination, the world began to see power and pride at their worst.
Although we criticize the Germans for their prejudice, we, in the United States, were not much better. Although we did not take violent and drastic measures against the Jews as Hitler did, we too, did not treat them as equals. We lied about the number of Jews we had brought to safety. In fact, we were taking more people from other places in Europe than the ones fleeing for their lives. We were unkind to the Jews, but they were not the only ones being persecuted in the United States. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the United States feared betrayal from the Japanese-American citizens. In areas the Japanese citizens were a major part of the economy, they were left alone, while those living in areas that could do without them, were sent off to internment camps. This was perhaps the worst violation of human rights that the United States has ever dictated. Realizing later how wrong we had been, our country gave the Japanese, who had been in the camps, a payment of 100,000 each. This did not reverse the damaging effects, but it did help to admit we were wrong.
From these things we, as a society, have learned to be guided by our conscience and to question the legitimacy of the actions of ourselves as well as others. Most of all we learned that the easy way out is often not the most justifiable way. These are the lessons that we must constantly remind ourselves of in order to prevent another Holocaust.
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