The Holocaust must be taught

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GUEST EDITORIAL

A bipartisan bill making its way through the state legislature with strong support would require that North Carolina public school students learn about the Holocaust, the systematic genocide of millions of Jews and other people during World War II carried out by Nazi Germany.

It’s surprising to learn that an N.C. student could graduate from high school without learning about this historic calamity. (According to a poll conducted by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, 66 percent of U.S. millennials don’t know what Auschwitz is.) Of course it should be considered an essential.

Unfortunately, it’s also timely.

The bill requires the State Board of Education to include instruction of the Holocaust and genocide into the English and social studies standards used in middle schools and high schools. Knowledge of the Holocaust “is essential to provide students with the fundamental understanding of geography, history, and political systems necessary to make informed choices on issues that affect individuals, communities, states, and nations,” the bill reads.

Part of the impetus for the bill is the fact that the remaining survivors of the Holocaust are now reaching the ends of their lives.

The bill calls for the Department of Public Education to provide the curriculum for the courses and local school boards to provide professional development to ensure that the courses are effectively implemented. They could receive consultation from the N.C. Council on the Holocaust and the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching.

The Holocaust certainly should be taught and remembered. An essential curriculum would be gruesome, but it shouldn’t be sanitized. It was the greatest horror of the modern world.

The history, political atmosphere and especially the persecution and falsehoods that led to it in the first place should be an integral part of the curriculum. The rise of Adolf Hitler and his accumulation of power, as well as the Nazi regime’s use of propaganda, are important parts of the story that must be included. And while America’s role in ending Hitler’s reign of terror was heroic, the curriculum should also include lessons about the German Jewish refugees who sought safety here, only to be turned away, to our shame. These include the 937 passengers of the German ocean liner St. Louis, almost all Jewish, who were denied entry to the port of Miami in 1939. The ship was forced to return to Europe, where more than a quarter of its passengers died in the Holocaust. This was one result of the anti-Semitism that was openly advocated by social and political figures of the day.

This is just one of the historic missteps and tragedies (including slavery, eugenics and lynching) from which we should learn, to ensure that they are never repeated.

It’s disturbing that anti-Semitism has been resurging in some dank swamps of the world — and equally disturbing that uninformed charges of anti-Semitism and similar Nazi references make their way into the public discourse. Such atrocities shouldn’t be trivialized. A solid and thorough education in the subject should help.

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