One of the most recent highlights of my personal and professional life is that of becoming a docent at our local Holocaust museum. Adding this to my teaching, writing and musical commitments is an honor for which I am most grateful.
My responsibilities will include conducting tours of the museum as well as facilitating lectures to local organizations. The only serious challenge that remains is including my students in the process, a requisite action.
Statistics suggest that our US population is seriously under informed about World War II and the Holocaust. As one dedicated, passionate historian, I hope to make my own impact on that lack of knowledge that simply cannot be condoned.
Elementary school children are aware of hatred, discrimination and prejudice. We teach it in other contexts, particularly in a society heavily populated by Native Americans. But the subject of racial cleansing and extermination are foreign to them.
Because I don’t have access to the entire spectrum of history curriculum, I can’t assume anything. One middle school at which I taught years ago had an entire unit on the Holocaust. Out of respect to my classroom teachers, I don’t launch a full-on lesson without specific permission to do so.
If a student notices my Holocaust museum bracelet, what is the appropriate response? There are more questions than there are answers.
Why did the Nazis hate the Jews and want to destroy them? From where does hate originate? What other groups were targeted? How did it end? How many were killed? Why do we need to know about this?
The last question is by far the most important. While there are numerous Holocaust deniers out there, the chances of encountering one in school are probably negligible. If that experience should occur, I’ll handle it with patience and as much objectivity as I can muster.
The answer, as we have heard from so many who have survived the Holocaust, is that we must never forget. If we do so, we make it possible for the horrors of the Holocaust to reoccur. Although we can’t predict the targets of institutionalized hatred, any minority can be next. My intent is not to scare my kids but to educate them on vitally important history.
Under no circumstances will I use my position as an educator to advance my social or political beliefs. When the time is right, my teachers approve and I can educate and inform, this is my most solemn responsibility. Those who came before me and those who follow must be honored. Shalom.