Learning about the Holocaust provides insight on how to prevent another

Without education, we are desensitized to terror

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(courtesy of the official ‘holocaust memorial museum of Washington D.C.’ facebook page)

By Samantha Schultz, Collegian Contributor

When I enrolled in the course titled “Representing the Holocaust,” I was looking for a global diversity credit more than anything else. I expected it to be like my brief experience learning about the Holocaust in high school, with lots of memorizing dates and facts while the teacher skimmed over the particularly gory details. What I got instead was an in-depth look at the Holocaust and its effects from a variety of different perspectives, through novels, poems, sculptures and music.

I get to peer through the eyes of a Holocaust victim with each sentence of Primo Levi’s “Survival in Auschwitz.” Feelings of terror and defiance swell along with the music of Arnold Schoenberg’s composition “A Survivor from Warsaw.” I used to see the victims of the Holocaust as numbers and statistics. One million were killed here, another two million murdered here. Through the hours of film I have watched and the pages of novels I have read, the victims look at me with human faces. They speak the story of an unspeakable atrocity. It is hard to imagine that much pain and loss, but we cannot forget the human side of the Holocaust.

Currently, 42 states do not require Holocaust and genocide education for high school and middle school students, but legislators from 20 states have said they will introduce legislation requiring it. In states that do mandate this education, most of the time, the courses only scratch the surface of the topic before moving on to another event in history. Education about the origin of genocide is critical to raising a generation of people who will prevent it from happening again. From our perspective in the United States, it seems impossible that something as horrific as the Holocaust could occur in modern society, but as soon as we begin demonizing and stereotyping a group of people, we forget their humanity and begin to act callously and selfishly. It is so easy to focus on our differences from those around us, from religion to cultural traditions to skin color. We must constantly remind ourselves that we are all human beings, deserving of the same rights and respect. Analyzing the Holocaust beyond numbers and dates allows you to imagine yourself in that situation and creates a feeling of empathy for those who suffered, as well as all the other groups of people who have been targeted and tormented based on factors beyond their control.

The more time that passes since the Holocaust and other horrific genocides occurred, the more the Holocaust feels like a scary story passed down through the generations, and we become desensitized to the horrible reality of what mankind is capable of. It is imperative that future generations not only learn when the Holocaust happened but learn why and who was affected. If we can spot signs of fascist and genocidal ideology early on, we can speak up and stop the progression of hatred in its tracks. Hitler worried about his public approval, and if the German people had protested against his actions, he may not have continued so forcefully. Neo-Nazi and fascist groups in today’s society will try to normalize their viewpoints and appeal to a large audience by making their intentions seem harmless. We must remember that the minorities they vilify are also just human beings, and fight for their rights as we would fight for our own.

Learning about an event like the Holocaust can be emotionally draining and uncomfortable. But we should be uncomfortable in the face of something so appalling, and discomfort is a way to prevent it from becoming normal.

The things I am learning in this course go far beyond anything that can be quantified or tested. I have realized how desensitized I was to the terror and suffering that people faced under Hitler’s regime. I think education about genocides and their foundations should be required in every state curriculum so the generations to come will never be complacent in the face of hatred and discrimination. Now, more than ever, it is important that we recognize the humanity in one another.

 

Samantha Schultz is a Collegian contributor and can be reached at [email protected]