As a parent, grandparent, and history buff, I don’t believe that you can ever over-emphasize Adolf Hitler and his effect on history in the 20th Century. However, I do believe that more emphasis could and should be placed on the Holocaust. While I realize that school systems across the country and even within a state vary, from my contact with young people I have the impression that very few of them know much at all about World War II and its causes.
Too often, it seems that today’s young people only have a vague idea of who Adolf Hitler was and what he stood for and even less of an idea of what the Holocaust was. And with various programs that are available through the History Channel this is a crime. Part of the problem is time. With only so many days each school year and so much history of the World to cover; it’s understandably hard for teachers to do much more than scrape the surface of events. Part of the problem is where each teacher places his or her emphasis. I know that my 32 year old daughter’s history classes in high school seemed to place more emphasis on social conditions, i.e. fashions, living conditions, and similar topics than on what actually took place historically. I do realize that part of this was the slanted view on what my daughter and her friends thought was important. If you had asked her in high school who Adolf Hitler was, she could have given you a brief, 2 or 3 sentence response and probably could have given you an approximate number of victims of the Holocaust.
But, telling a child an approximate number of victims, especially when the number was so large, doesn’t really bring home the point. Telling a young person that approximately 9 to 11 million people, possibly more, were killed by the Nazi regime in concentration camps is akin to telling them the number of grains of sand on a beach. It doesn’t really register, it’s too hard for them to really grasp and comprehend that many victims. We have to find ways to break it down and make it more personal. Unfortunately, we are rapidly losing one of our greatest resources to personalize these events. More and more survivors of the Holocaust are dying each year, as are our veterans of World War II in Europe. People who could have vividly described the events to our students. Again I realize that every city in America did not have a survivor of the Holocaust living in it. But, most of our cities did have veterans who had served in Europe and could have shared their stories of what they had seen when the death camps were overrun.
Our best resource today are documentaries that show the horrors that took place in the death camps. Many of these events were documented on film by the Nazis themselves and clearly show the prevailing conditions at the time. Another important resource that could and should be used are books written by the survivors themselves; people like Simon Wisenthal, Carrie Ten Bloom, and others have all written excellent books about their experiences. Other books, like the “Diary of Anne Frank” are available and should be added to high school reading lists. Schools should also take advantage of the excellent series of programs offered by the History Channel, which include a history of the Gestapo and the SS, documentaries showing the actual concentration camps and include interviews with both survivors and German soldiers. Using film shot by both the Nazis and the Allies who liberated the camps can help bring home the conditions of the time; it’s hard to fake humans who at the time of liberation look like walking skeletons. Will these documentaries cause the students some unpleasant moments, probably. But, in the long run it would probably be a good thing.
Too many people in today’s World and even in the United States deny that these events even took place. Or they play down the number of people actually killed. Letting the memory of approximately 6 million Jewish victims, and millions more Ukrainian, Gypsy, and other ethnic, racial, and mentally disabled victims be minimized, marginalized, and even denied completely cannot be allowed to happen. And behind all of it was the evil mind of Adolf Hitler.