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Don’t know much about history

The failure of schools to teach about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust leads to dangerous ignorance


The gate of the Auschwitz camp in Oswiecim, Poland Associated Press/Photo by Markus Schreiber

Don’t know much about history
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Most Americans have been shocked by the vile anti-Semitism that erupted in urban centers and many university campuses in the hours following the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel. Americans must reconsider what is (and is not) being taught to our schoolchildren and teens because the evidence suggests that today’s young adult is badly misinformed on the evils of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism. And this portends a skewed view towards human dignity more generally.

Recall that on Oct. 8 and 9, just hours after Hamas thugs raped, tortured, and massacred 1,400 concertgoers, children, the elderly, and other civilians, rallies glorifying that violence popped up at universities and in cities such as New York. Young adults and teenagers were avidly watching what The Washington Post has called “video jihad,” body camera images from Hamas murderers that had been put to movie soundtracks. In just a few hours after the grisly attacks, thousands mobilized to gloat in the violence, chanting slogans that could have come from 1930s, such as “Gas the Jews.”

How did we get here?

A recent article from The New York Times captures the problem in a snapshot: The leadership of a public day care center in Germany recently disavowed its namesake, Anne Frank, to change the name to “World Explorer.” School leaders said that their clientele, many of whom were migrant families who have fled persecution or poverty to make a new life in Germany, did “not know what to make” of the name Anne Frank.

A public educational institution, such as a day care center—especially in Germany—has an important role to play in ensuring that our neighbors, especially newcomers to the country, know the nation’s values and commitments against anti-Semitism and for the human dignity of everyone.

Sadly, we have largely stopped teaching our rising citizens about the evil of Aryan racial supremacy, the horrors of World War II concentration camps, and the longer-term scourge of anti-Semitism that fueled the death of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.

As NBC and other outlets have reported, a major study by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (“Claims Conference”) found a “shocking” lack of knowledge of the Holocaust among Millennials. Researcher Alan Brown found that “66 percent [of Millennials] could not identify Auschwitz. The survey found that 11 percent of American adults had not heard of the Holocaust. Furthermore, 22 percent of Millennials are ignorant of the” Holocaust.

Part of the problem is the recent ideological rewriting of Western history as a sordid saga of patriarchy, misogyny, colonialism, and racism.

The Pew Research Center cites what many call “Holocaust minimizing,” which argues that although a lot of people died, the numbers are grossly inflated for political purposes by global Jewish forces. Only 45 percent of those surveyed accurately knew the Holocaust death toll of 6 million Jews.

Part of the problem is the recent ideological rewriting of Western history as a sordid saga of patriarchy, misogyny, colonialism, and racism. A case in point is the so-called “1619 Project” that discounts America’s founding history of the Pilgrims seeking religious freedom and many poor European immigrants escaping poverty and tyranny at home, revising that history through the singular lens of slavery.

The 1619 Project is just one manifestation of the neo-Marxist orthodoxy that has taken over humanities and social science departments at many Western universities, with new emphases on “settler colonialism.” That bizarre rewriting of history is the only way that one can turn the emaciated survivors of Auschwitz, who with United Nations sanction established one of the two states called for in the 1948 settlement, from “survivors” to “colonial oppressors.”

Conservatives may not realize that many of our parochial schools and homeschool “pods” neglect anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. Well-intentioned parents and teachers in public or private education are simply too squeamish to focus attention on the horrors of the Holocaust and why anti-Semitism is a historic and contemporary issue. Let’s be honest with ourselves: A society that gives every kid a trophy so that his or her feelings aren’t hurt and scrupulously avoids mention of pain, suffering, and death is unlikely to have considered age-appropriate discussions of anti-Semitism, ethno-religious ideologies, mass murder, or the Holocaust.

An honest approach to the evils of anti-Semitism, racial chauvinism, and the historical reality of the Holocaust should begin with the Golden Rule, and thus it should help us to point to other crimes against humanity that are pursued on ethno-religious grounds, such as Burma’s ethnic cleansing of its Royhinga Muslims or China’s assault on its Muslim Uighurs.

The gate over Auschwitz lied: “Work Sets You Free.” We know that truth is indispensable for free citizens to defend a free society. Our schools, parents, and teachers must tell the truth about anti-Semitism and the Holocaust before it is too late.


Eric Patterson

Eric Patterson is president of the Religious Freedom Institute in Washington, D.C., and past dean of the School of Government at Regent University. He is the author or editor of more than 20 books, including Just American Wars, Politics in a Religious World, and Ending Wars Well.


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