What I learned about the Holocaust from school
Anton Kozelichki, 8th grade student from Discovery Middle School, shares a reflection
In all my time learning about the Holocaust at both the Jewish Federation and Sinai Synagogue, I have never truly been able to understand the lesson of the Holocaust. Yes, it was one of the worst things to ever happen to the human race, but so what? While it may seem like a blatantly ignorant question to ask, it is a very real question that came to my mind. In my mind, and I’m sure in at least a substantial portion of other kids, I simply couldn’t understand what needed to be done.
With this in mind, I was somewhat dreading the fact that I would spend the next nine weeks in school learning and writing about the Holocaust. However, I was pleasantly surprised by what I was being taught. Mr. O’Malley, one of the 8th grade Language Arts teachers at Discovery Middle School and one of the speakers at the Yom HaShoah event, was showing us pictures of antisemitism in our modern world! He showed us defamed tombstones, high schoolers raising the Nazi salute, and celebrities inciting acts of hate against Jews. For once in my Holocaust education, I had been shown not history, but acts of hate being committed in the present.
He connected these acts of hate to the prejudice and racial oppression shown elsewhere in the world. He was the first person to connect the Holocaust to events happening in our present…to events happening against minorities today! It was eye opening for myself and the entire class.
A few short days after this talk, we started discussing indifference, the feeling of not feeling anything. We read The Perils of Indifference written by Elie Wiesel, and explored what it truly means to be indifferent and why taking action is always necessary. We listened to stories about people being indifferent to an old man getting his hair set on fire on the subway and what happened to the one guy who stood up for him. We learned to take action; to stand up for others, not just for ourselves, and not just for people we know, but for everybody.
After all this discussion about indifference and a few assignments related to it, we read Night by Elie Wiesel. For those who are uninformed, Night is a memoir of Elie Wiesel’s experiences in Auschwitz as a teenager. We focused on the book for a while, and just hearing the stories inside Auschwitz from a firsthand account was eye opening in its own right, but afterwards is what really allowed my classmates and me to truly understand the lesson of the Holocaust.
We were tasked with writing an essay about answering an essential question, questions given to us by O’Malley when we first got the book or talking about a theme from the book. For half of the essay, we were to talk about either one of those two in relation to the book. For the other half we had to relate it to situations happening in the real world.
This essay drew everything together. With our initial talks about hate crimes occurring against Jews, talking about indifference and the need to take action, and now connecting it to the real world, we understood what it was we needed to learn: to never let something like the Holocaust happen again and to take action whenever you see something discriminatory or bad happening.
While it may seem like a straightforward idea to get your head across, Holocaust education doesn’t push for this. It pushes to simply remember. Remember the history. However, antisemitism isn’t just history, it’s a daily occurrence. This is what Holocaust education needs. It needs to follow in the footsteps of educators like O’Malley and connect it to modern day issues. Connect it to the need to take action. Connect it to the idea that this isn’t just history.
Yes, it is important to make sure the Holocaust is never forgotten, but that isn’t enough. Our youth and future generations need to learn to take action; to make sure that the Holocaust and antisemitism stays history.