JCC Blog & News

Why is teaching about the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism important?

access_time July 15, 2020 - By Erin Levine-Krynock

By Deb Smith


As someone who never lived during time of the Holocaust, I think that everyone should have an understanding of how and why it occurred. The Holocaust sheds a light on the hazards of prejudice, discrimination, and anti-Semitism and raises important questions about the motivation of people to act or not.

It documents the rise of people in power whose policies and ideologies divided communities and promoted environments that make genocide possible.

Genocide. Let that word sink in. Six million people died.

Lessons learned are always powerful tool to engage students. In today’s society, the lessons learned from the Holocaust can provide a framework that will enable children to understand the dangers of human behavior, the abuse of power; and the roles that fear, peer pressure, indifference, greed and resentment can play in social and political relations.

Understanding also enables reflection about things, like the power of extremist ideologies and propaganda.

I was recently on a Zoom call with Deborah Lipstadt, Ina Levine Invitational Scholar at the Museum’s Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies and author of Antisemitism: Here and Now as well as Lisa Leff, Director, Jack, Joseph, and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.

They discussed anti-Semitism around the world in the past year since the vicious anti-Semitic attack on a synagogue in Poway, California. What many don’t realize is the continued use of hateful anti-Semitic propaganda.

Anti-Semitic graffiti on a synagogue
Anti-Semitic sign held outside a car during a protest at the Ohio Statehouse in mid-April 2020.

What does this mean to us? It should give us an opportunity to ask what we can do about this?

1. Holocaust education in schools-

Children should learn about the Holocaust to ensure it never happens again. The parallels to what we see in present day can be a learning opportunity for students to develop and use critical thinking skills.

Twelve states mandate Holocaust instruction. Pennsylvania is not one of them.

It should not only require such teaching, but it should also set a baseline for a meaningful amount of instruction, enough to make it meaningful to students. The curriculum guidelines should address awareness of atrocities based on race, ethnicity or religion and can be incorporated in social studies and language arts classes.

I’ve been told by many state representatives that Pennsylvania school districts dislike mandates, but this is one that the state should impose and educators should embrace.

If you have the ability to, you can email, call or write your state legislators. You can find out who they are here- https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/findyourlegislator/

2. Speak up.

When you hear something that is anti-Semitic, address it. You don’t have to attack that person, but you need to address it in a way that people understand that it is not funny, is not a joke, and you should never say it again. The same goes for when you see memes or propaganda. You should ask the person why they shared it and if you don’t know them, you can always report it.

Remember, silence is a welcome mat to hate.

Finally, I’d like to share that we don’t know what we don’t know. It takes a big person to step outside of their comfort zone and learn about what they don’t know. How often do you seek out the opposite of what you think about an issue? Have you ever questioned what you were taught? If so, you should realize that everything should be questioned. It is only after that where you can form your own tried and true opinion. And even then, it should be up for rethinking.

When I was younger, I had someone close to me make a comment about the Jewish religion. It wasn’t bad, but it made me think about a couple of things. One, what do I know about Judaism and two, is being Jewish a bad thing? If anything, I am led to the question of what would make them ask the question they asked. What did they learn that led them to that question? I know I don’t recall a lot of learning about the Holocaust or Judaism, in general, as a child. I wish I did. I think, if anything, it would have given me a different view on the world and my own community.

To learn more about anti-Semitism then and now, you can view the Zoom session I mentioned earlier at https://www.facebook.com/holocaustmuseum/videos/179856359815476/.