Rising Antisemitism and Fading Memories of the Holocaust
Can history help promote a safe and just world today?
January 27, 2019, is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This day marks 74 years since Auschwitz-Birkenau, the infamous Nazi killing center, was liberated by Allied forces. On this anniversary, the world commemorates the mass murder of six million European Jews—as well as millions of Roma, homosexuals, disabled persons, and political dissidents—at the hands of Nazi Germany.
Can official commemorations such as this help us to confront hate in the world today?
Almost three-quarters of a century has passed since the near decimation of Europe’s Jewish community. The Holocaust demonstrated to the world the abject evil that can follow the exploitation of deep-seeded hatred. Yet in recent years, two troubling, and possibly related, trends have emerged: knowledge and memory of the Holocaust is receding, as antisemitic and xenophobic violence is on the rise. Despite the international community’s post-war commitment to building institutions that combat antisemitism and promote peace and tolerance, recent studies suggest that the calls and commitment to “never forget” the horrors of the Holocaust may be fading.
The following teaching ideas prompt students to assess their own knowledge about the Holocaust and antisemitism, analyze recent trends about each revealed by polling, and consider how understanding history can guide our efforts to bring about a more just world today.
Teachers can begin examining this current event topic by asking students to reflect on their awareness of the Holocaust and antisemitism. Lead a brief discussion based on these questions:
How much have you learned about the Holocaust and/or antisemitism? Where has your information come from? What questions do you have?
If students are mostly unfamiliar with the Holocaust, share these basic facts:
Students will examine two recent reports about the fading memory of the Holocaust and the resurgence of antisemitic attitudes in Europe in recent years. But first, have them consider why it might be important to remember the Holocaust. Ask students to offer some initial thoughts about the following question:
Do you think it matters whether, 74 years later, the world still knows about and remembers the Holocaust? What do you think might be some consequences if people don’t know anything about it?
Next, share one or both of the following resources with students:
Use these questions to guide your discussion of the resources:
Journal Reflection: Ask students to consider the following observation by Jonathan Sacks, a British rabbi and philosopher, and then respond in their journals to the questions below.
History is information. Memory, by contrast, is part of identity. . . . Memory is the past as present, as it lives on in me. Survivors, witnesses, the descendants of those who lived this history, and all those who learn about it today face the question of how to remember the past and how that memory might shape our understanding of ourselves and our present world.2
Over 70 years after the end of the Holocaust, the generation of survivors and witnesses is aging and passing away. Who today is responsible for preserving the memory of the Holocaust? Why is so important to preserve that memory? How can people today learn the history of the Holocaust in a way that makes it more than mere “information”? What might it look like to make this history part of our own identities as individuals and communities?
To delve more deeply into the 74th anniversary commemorating the Holocaust and to use creative resources inspired by the Holocaust, consult our unit Teaching Schindler’s List. To explore contemporary manifestations of European antisemitism and to find teaching ideas to guide your students, refer to our lesson Responding to Hate in Our Communities Today from this same unit.