A recent survey from the Claims Conference found a striking lack of awareness around the basic facts of the Holocaust. 41 percent of millennials believe that 2 million or fewer people perished in the Shoah and an alarming 66 percent of millennials donot know what Auschwitz was. The study highlights that the further we are away from the events of the Holocaust, the greater the lack of awareness of this event is, particularly among the youngest adult generation in the United States.
The Claims Conference also highlighted what they called "encouraging notes" in the survey. The positive signs they saw are that 93% of all Americans believe all students should learn about the Holocaust in school and that 80% percent of Americans say it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust so that it is not repeated.
The survey results were in stark relief for me last week as the school commemorated Yom Ha-Shoah v' Ha-Gevurah, Holocaust Remembrance and Heroism Day. Students in Jewish day schools study and commemorate the tragic events of the Holocaust and, over a period of years, gain an appreciation for both the loss of life and for the disappearance of Jewish culture and civilization that existed in Europe prior to World War II.
In Jewish History courses, we teach students about the context and causes of the Holocaust. Through rigorous historical analysis combined with the study of human behavior as they relate to the Holocaust, we challenge students to gain a better understanding of racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice. The goals of this type of study are to increase students' ability to relate history to their own lives and promote ethical decision-making in their lives to prevent similar events from occurring.
Last year, Ryan Spiegel, a Gaithersburg Council Member (and a CESJDS Parent), asked Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to detail how their curriculum teaches the facts and history of the Holocaust. Spiegel was alarmed by the "striking ignorance" he saw in the broader community and was concerned about how and to what extent the Holocaust was being taught. While many public schools have a mandate to teach the holocaust and some private independent schools do include small amounts of this in their curricula, largely schools are not addressing these areas in a significant manner.
As the Claims Conference study made clear, schools are the primary venue where Americans will need to learn about and the lessons from the Holocaust. Currently, this work is only taking place in a significant way in Jewish day schools. In addition to the value this brings our students, there may be a case for Day Schools to reach out to their local public and private independent colleagues school to advance this area is that is readily diminishing in the consciousness of Americans.