School must start educating its students on the Holocaust 

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Emily Salzhauer, Staff Writer

My family, friends, and I like to joke around and call me a “superjew.” While I don’t consider myself religious, being Jewish is a fundamental part of who I am. I proudly wear a Magen David necklace every day, I take pride in my Jewish heritage, and I try my best to educate myself about Jewish causes and issues. So, I was surprised to realize how little I have learned at this school about the Holocaust, one of the most significant events in Jewish history.

Last summer, I visited Yad Vashem, the International Holocaust Remembrance Musuem, with a group of Jewish teens. There, I realized I had barely been taught about the Holocaust. Everyone around me knew the names of important figures from World War II and the Holocaust that I had never heard of, such as Adolf Eichman — the architect of the “Final Solution,” the Nazi plan to kill Europe’s Jews —  and Dr. Joseph Mengele — a Nazi doctor referred to as the “Angel of Death” who performed inhumane medical experiments on prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Since then, I have tried to learn more about the Holocaust through books, classes, and programs outside of school. However, my lack of education on the Holocaust is not a personal failure, but rather the failure of the Horace Mann School to educate its students about this horrific event. How is it that this Thursday —  Yom HaShoah, or International Holocaust Rememberance Day —  passed without any recognition from the school.

The Holocaust was the systematic murder of six milllion Jewish men, women, and children — roughly two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population — by the Nazi Party of Germany. In their effort to establish a “pure Aryan race,” the Nazis also murdered LGBTQ+, Roma, and disabled people of all religions. The final death count totalled 11 million. In 1933, Adolf Hitler was appointed German chancellor and established “The Third Reich,” also known as the Nazi State. In 1935, the Nazi party enacted the Nuremberg Race Laws that categorized Jewish people as a separate race from Germans , thus revoking German citizenship from Jews and forbidding marriage between Jews and “real Germans.” The violence that many people associate with the Holocaust began with “Kristallnacht” or “the night of broken glass” on December 9, 1938, when Nazi leaders and German citizens alike attacked, vandalized, and burned down countless Jewish homes, Jewish-owned businesses, and synagogues. The Nazis then used concentration camps such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, forced labor camps, death camps such as Trenblinka, and mass execution sites such as Babyn Yar to aid in their genocide of the Jewish people.

I have been a student at this school since I was three years old, and yet during my fourteen years here, the only time I have been taught about the Holocaust was when Mrs. Rubenstein, my fifth grade English teacher whose father was a Holocaust survivor, assigned “Number the Stars” by Lois Lowry — a book about a Jewish family’s escape from Denmark during World War II. 

Antisemitism is rapidly increasing worldwide. According to the American Jewish Committee (AJC), one out of every 12 hate crimes in the United States in 2020 was anti-Jewish, despite the fact that Jews make up only two percent of the American population. Holocaust denial and distortion is a driving force behind these antisemitic incidents. According to the AJC, Holocaust denial is “an attempt to negate the facts of the Nazi genocide of the Jewish people,” with the central belief of Holocaust deniers being that “the Holocaust did not happen or was greatly exaggerated.”

A nationwide survey of adults under the age of 40 conducted by NBC news in 2020 revealed that one in ten respondents “did not recall ever hearing the word ‘Holocaust’ before,” particularly millennials and Generation Z. The survey also showed that 63 percent “did not know that six million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust” and over half of those people “thought the death toll was fewer than two million.” Nazis created approximately 44,000 concentration camps, ghettos, and incarceration sites to conduct a genocide of the Jewish people, yet half of the respondents could not name a single one of the camps.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Holocaust distortion and denial has reached an all-time high. Holocaust denial is no longer an obscure fringe belief; it is on our social media feeds and present in large movements across the world. Unvaccinated people wore yellow stars similar to those the Nazis forced Jews to wear during the Holocaust to compare vaccine mandates to the murder of over six million Jews, while others claimed that Jews deliberately spread the virus to gain control of the world. Even prior to the pandemic, some people believed the Jews deserved the Holocaust and stood by the horrendous actions of the Nazis, despite survivors’ testimonies and historical evidence of the tragedies that occured. Antisemitism even exists in our own community. Just last year, four synagogues in Riverdale were vandalized with swastikas on a single weekend. A few years before that, the front door of a Jewish family’s house a block away from school was also vandalized with swastikas. Although both incidents occurred over 70 years after the Holocaust ended, they are proof that the symbols of the Holocaust are still widely used in antisemitic attacks.

The best way to stop this hate and misinformation is through education. The State of New York mandates that public schools teach the Holocaust, yet Horace Mann has chosen not to do so. Our school prides itself on being inclusive and exposing its students to a wide range of topics and perspectives, yet the Holocaust has not been discussed in the classroom since I was in fifth grade — almost seven years ago. Teaching the Holocaust should not be up to a teacher’s discretion, but rather a mandatory part of the school’s curriculum. It is not only important because students must understand why Holocaust distortion and denial is so problematic, but also because students should learn how the intersections between racism, prejudice, stereotypes, and hate speech culminated in the murder of six million Jews.

The Holocaust should be taught in Middle Division  and Upper Division English classes because, as I have learned here, literature is one of the most powerful ways to understand events and experiences that seem foreign or abstract to us. It should also be taught in history classes like US History, where teachers could cover the Holocaust through the lens of US intervention in WWII, or the lack thereof. There could even be a history elective that covers the Holocaust and other key events in Jewish history. My family and I have long struggled with the question of why Horace Mann does not speak about the Holocaust. It is not because the Holocaust is “too much” or “too dark” to cover in the classroom, because we go over other disturbing matters in detail. It also isn’t lack of interest among families, because I have spoken to many students and families who are also frustrated that the school ignores the Holocaust. The truth is, there is no excuse for the lack of attention the school gives to the Holocaust.

Now more than ever, the school must do better. One of Horace Mann’s goals is to give students the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed. In overlooking the Holocaust, it has failed that goal. The Holocaust is a historical event that cannot be ignored. How can we say “never again” if we do not even know what happened?