Teach Your Children Well

This year, it seems more important than ever to pass the torch of education and remembrance to the next generations

By Rolene Marks

The responsibility to bear witness, remember and educate is so important for the next generations to continue”.

We say this this every year as we approach Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel. Unlike the UN-designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day which takes place on the 27th of January to coincide with the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp and commemorates all victims of the Holocaust, Yom Hashoah focuses specifically on the Jewish victims and coincides with the Hebrew anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

This year, these words seem to have greater urgency.

Illuminating the Dark. Holocaust survivors light six torches representing the six million victims of the Nazi genocide during the opening ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum in Jerusalem, as Israel marks the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day. Seen here lighting one of the torches at the ceremony in 2018, is survivor Miriam Lapid.(Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The importance of Holocaust education is not a mere understatement, it is critical. As time marches on, we lose our remaining eyewitnesses and survivors of mankind’s most horrific genocide. As time marches on, so it becomes ever more urgent for us to bear witness to the first-hand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust.

This year, the commitment has to be on us to ensure that we pass the baton on to the next generations, so that they can bear witness, using the mediums they know best, in the language that is the most appealing to their peers.

A 2020 survey carried out in the United States by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany found that among adults under 40, roughly 1 in 10 respondents did not recall ever having heard the word “Holocaust” before. Sixty-three percent of those surveyed did not know 6 million Jews were murdered in the Holocaust. Over half of those thought the toll was under 2 million. These are staggering statistics and have exposed a glaring lack of Holocaust education in the USA.

Over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettos were established across Europe during World War II, but nearly half of the respondents could not name a single one.

The most important lesson is that we can’t lose any more time,” said Greg Schneider, Executive Vice President of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany. “If we let these trends continue for another generation, the crucial lessons from this terrible part of history could be lost.”

Europe is no different.

A European based survey, shortly before the one in the US, found that antisemitic stereotypes are widespread; with more than a quarter of Europeans saying Jews have “too much influence in business and finance”. According to the CNN/ComRes survey into European attitudes towards Jews, 34 percent of those surveyed said they knew just a little or had never heard of the Holocaust, while 20 percent of French people between the ages of 18 and 34 said they had never heard of the Holocaust. You would think that on the continent that remains a graveyard for once thriving Jewish communities and where there are reminders in every major city, they would be a little more educated and aware; but alas, they are not.

A third of Europeans surveyed said Jewish people use the Holocaust to advance their own positions or goals.

Karen Pollock, Chief Executive of the UK based Holocaust Educational Trust, told CNNthe poll confirmed “a worrying increase in the number of people who believe traditional antisemitic tropes or hold antisemitic views, as well as a disappointing lack of knowledge about the Holocaust.”

These are not the only surveys and studies producing worrying results. The Simon Wiesenthal Centre, named after the famed Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter, have raised the alarm over the increase in the amount of Holocaust denial, distortion and revisionism on social media. It is no great secret that social media platforms, especially Twitter, are a cesspit of hate. While Facebook has managed to clamp down on Holocaust denial, Twitter remains a veritable free- for-all. I have lost track of all of the times I have complained to Twitter about vile antisemitic content only to receive the message that the post in question does not violate their ”standards”.

Fading Faces. Images like these Hungarian Jews on the selection ramp at Auschwitz determining  those deemed “fit for work” or sent to the gas chambers are amongst millennials of ever-decreasing interest. (Photo: Yad Vashem, from the Auschwitz Album)

The role of social media platforms is critical. It is here where the younger generations interact and sadly, form their opinions on global events. On the one hand, these platforms create the opportunity for people to express themselves – and on the other, allows for predatory antisemites, Holocaust deniers and distorters to find a captive audience and create communities.

We do not need surveys to tell us how critical Holocaust education is. We are seeing a rise in antisemitism that is rivalling that of pre-World War II. Subsequent genocides and human rights violations have shown us that the lessons of history have not been learnt. Holocaust education is vital not just to help combat antisemitism; but to reinforce the lessons of history. NEVER AGAIN has to mean something, right?

We cannot rely solely on educational institutions and the media to educate – we have to take the responsibility on board ourselves as individuals, organisations and communities.

Has the like of this happened in your days or in the days of your fathers? Tell your children about it, and let your children tell theirs, and their children, the next generation!” (1 Joel 2-3).

These words are inscribed at the entrance to Yad Vashem, Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial and Museum. As we lose our last eyewitness survivors of the horrors of the Holocaust to the passage of time, so it becomes more of an imperative that our generation must bear witness, remember and teach the ones to come.

Living Testimony. French Holocaust survivor Victor Perahia, interned as a child in the Drancy camp outside Paris and then deported to Bergen-Belsen, speaks to students during a January 2020 workshop dedicated to Holocaust remembrance at Drancy. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

This Yom Hashoah as we remember our 6 million and honour the individuals and the communities targeted for extermination simply because they were Jewish, we need to not only renew our vow of NEVER AGAIN, we need to commit to the 6 million martyred, that we will continue to bear witness, to testify on their behalf and to educate.

Seeing is Believing. A photo taken April 12, 1945, shows just some of the bodies found by U.S. troops when they arrived at Nordhausen concentration camp in Germany. (Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library)

Their voices cry out to us; they implore us, they remind us of the urgency of their plea. It is a plea we will hear. It is a vow we will honour.

May the memories of our 6 million be forever blessed.

Education is the Key. Young people at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem looking above at the dome displaying photos of the victims of the Holocaust and then below at the water, reflecting those NEVER to be forgotten faces.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).

Ending Holocaust Distortion Through Education

A reflection this Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) on  protecting the history of the Holocaust

By Jonathan Feldstein

While I, like others have been following the Russia-Ukraine war obsessively, a specific US news report got me thinking! 

Firstly, it is hard to imagine that an unprovoked war is happening at all, much less obliterating entire communities. The human tragedy is underscored with more than five million – over 10% of Ukrainians – having fled their country.  However, because of whom and where I am, I tend to look at this horrific tragedy through a Jewish and Israeli prism. This stems from common experiences of war which Ukrainians are suffering and which Israel has suffered – and still suffers – as well as to the wholesale slaughter and destruction of Jewish communities during the Second World War at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators.

What is happening in Ukraine is unspeakable on many levels.  It’s unimaginable that anyone of good conscience can look at this reality and not at least be sympathetic to and supportive of the Ukrainians, and equally horrified by and opposed to the Russian aggression. I pray the war will end and that there will be sweeping war crimes trials and sanctions against Russia and the perpetrators, and that Ukrainians will all be able to return home and rebuild their lives.

Trivializing the Shoah. However horrendous the Russian leader’s actions are, comparisons of Vladimir Putin to Hitler is inappropriate, inaccurate and offensive to the victims of the Holocaust.

However, while not in any way detracting from my heartfelt sympathy with the people of Ukraine, I take strong exception to parallels drawn between Ukraine today and the Holocaust.  Sadly, there have been a plethora of such people’s ignorance of history, which I find particularly unsettling this week as Israel observes Yom HaShoah – Holocaust Memorial Day. Part of the problem is ignorance.  I don’t fault people for not knowing, but people should avoid publicly expressing such false analogies if they know only too well that they are ignorant on the subject. This is something they can correct by self-education. There cannot be enough education about the Holocaust which can take many forms from reading informative books – particularly the testimony of survivors  – to watching accurate documentaries.

Holocaust ignorance, however, does not excuse Holocaust distortion. Ignorance was recently spotlighted when Whoopi Goldberg asserted that “the Holocaust isn’t about race.” What it was about, according to Whoopi was:

 “… White people doing it to White people, so y’all gonna fight amongst yourselves.”

The sad truth is that Whoopi’s Holocaust ignorance is less about her and more a reflection of how widespread that ignorance is. This celebrity was a microcosm of a disturbing global phenomenon.

Watching a report on the Ukraine by Brian Kilmeade on FOX News, exposed how inappropriate Holocaust analogies are and the need to prevent this phenomena. Exposing this ignorance was the wanton display of photographs of the Holocaust parallel with pictures of Ukraine today – as if the two shared equivalence. I was going to let that lie, so in my quest to educate, I took to FOX’s social media and sent messages to correct the inappropriate parallels: 

It’s not cool to show pictures of Ukraine juxtaposed with the Holocaust. That’s lazy and grossly inaccurate. What’s happening in Ukraine is horrific. It is not a genocide. It is not the systematic murder of millions of people because of their religion. It’s not based on an ideology of racial purity. Other than the fact that people are suffering, and it happens to be in part of the world where the Holocaust took place, there is no parallel.”

In another message:

I don’t believe that this was done with malice, and whoever wrote this material needs to learn more. This month is Israel’s national Holocaust Memorial Day. I am very happy to speak with any of your staff who would like to be educated in a constructive way, and to meet in person the next time I am in the US. It is incumbent for anyone reporting the news to use proper language and accurate parallels, and if there are no accurate parallels, not to go fishing for ones that are inappropriate.”

Sadly – possibly indicative of not only ignorance but also indifference – I received no responses.

Designed to Deceive. Photographs of the current situation in Ukraine (when shown in black and white) are being used to compare millions of people across Europe who were forced to flee Nazi aggression during World War II and the Holocaust.

I also took great exception to President Biden calling the war in Ukraine “a genocide”.  Horrific as it is, it is not “genocide”. His depiction is an inaccurate distortion

Are there war crime happening? Yes.

But genocide, the systematic murder of an entire people, no; not even close. Biden is wrong as is anyone using the “genocide” analogy. 

Biden is not the only president to speak inaccurately. Even Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was wrong contriving Holocaust analogies. The fact that he’s Jewish doesn’t excuse him. On the contrary, if anything, he should be more informed and accurate and sensitive to the memory of Jewish Ukrainians who perished not because of war but solely as a consequence of true “genocide”.  When Zelensky’s family were murdered in the Holocaust, it was not because they were Ukrainian – it was because they were Jewish!

Despite his inappropriate Holocaust analogies, I am prepared to cut Zelensky some slack for leading his country with such heroism and moral clarity.

Mirky Past made Mirkier. Back in 2019, a staircase in a shopping mall on Kiev’s Bandera Avenue located on a street named for a collaborator with the Nazis is decorated with a large swastika.

However, Zelensky had the temerity to castigate Israel and the Jewish people of not standing sufficiently with Ukraine because Ukrainians “saved Jews during the Holocaust”. Here again is a display of gross ignorance or denial of the truth. While Israel and the Jewish people are fully supportive in word and deed with the Ukrainian people, Zelensky conveniently forgets his people’s lack of concern when Jews were singled out for total annihilation – to the last man, woman and child. Factually, fewer than 2,700 Ukrainians have been recognized as Righteous Gentiles for risking their lives to save Jews. While many of Ukraine’s 200,000 Jews today owe their lives to these heroes, many millions of other Ukrainians were indifferent or collaborated with the Nazis as willing partners in the mass murder of Jews. That is their history.

Whitewashing or ignoring the horrid history of Jews being murdered before and during the Holocaust by complacent and willing antisemitic Ukrainians is offensive. The Holocaust is not a smorgasbord of horrors that people can pick from to use as they so please to compare to the suffering of others.  As I wrote to FOX, the Holocaust or Shoah has no comparison with what is horrifically unfolding in Ukraine, the US border, or any other suffering around the world. 

Distorting the Past. Israel’s Holocaust research center “Yad Vashem” condemns comparison of the Holocaust to the Ukraine conflict

In a recent conversation with Lithuanian journalist and author Ruta Vanagaite, we discussed how ignorance and antisemitic stereotypes led to Lithuanians active participation and complacency in the murder of all but 1.5 percent of Lithuania’s Jews.

What’s the answer?

Education, education, education.”

About the writer:

Jonathan Feldstein ­­­­- President of the US based non-profit Genesis123 Foundation whose mission is to build bridges between Jews and Christians – is a freelance writer whose articles appear in The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Townhall, NorthJersey.com, Algemeiner Jornal, The Jewish Press, major Christian websites and more.

While the mission of Lay of the Land (LotL) is to provide a wide and diverse perspective of affairs in Israel, the Middle East and the Jewish world, the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by its various writers are not necessarily ones of the owners and management of LOTL but of the writers themselves.  LotL endeavours to the best of its ability to credit the use of all known photographs to the photographer and/or owner of such photographs (0&EO).