Teaching the Holocaust to nation’s youth
The last men and women who saw the horrors of the Holocaust with their own eyes will pass away within just a few years. No more elderly women will be left to tells about mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters sent to death camps, never to return. No more white-haired veterans who liberated the camps will choke back sobs as they tell us what the found.
It will be left to younger generations to read books about Hitlerism and watch grainy old films that document the most vicious murder machine ever devised. Many among post-World War II generations appear to be forgetting already.
A public opinion survey conducted in Austria — Adolf Hitler’s birthplace and the location of some of the death camps — disclosed that more than half of present-day residents of that country do not recognize the magnitude of the Holocaust. More than one-third think it claimed 2 million lives or fewer. Among people 18-34, 42 percent think the death toll was that low.
The truth is that more than 6 million Jews — nearly two-thirds of the total living in Europe at that time — were killed by Hitler’s minions.
Another 5.7 million Soviet Union residents were murdered. Between 2 million and 3 million Soviets held as prisoners of war were killed. As many as 1.9 million ethnic Poles died at the Nazis’ hands. Hundreds of thousands of other people, ranging from the disabled to members of the Roma culture, were shot, gassed, hanged or sometimes, burned alive.
Americans can do little or nothing to ensure Austrians, Germans and other Europeans remember what happened during the Hitler years. But we can ensure young people in our country understand that terror — as well as atrocities in Stalin’s Soviet Union, Mao Zedong’s China and other countries, sometimes far more recently than World War II.
It has been said that those who forget or ignore history are doomed to repeat it. Teaching and thinking about the Holocaust and other state-sponsored mass murders are unpleasant.
Repeating the experience, on the other hand, is unacceptable.