This year marked the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, one of the darkest moments in world history. A report conducted by the Claims Conference shows 41 percent of young adults cannot correctly state the number of victims of the Holocaust. And Huntington University students are no exception.
By Ellie Lawson, Contributor
Kennedy Krull, a junior Huntington University student, remembers the moment she walked into the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Only ten-years-old, she was amazed with its size and grandeur.
This was the first time she had any formal education on the Holocaust — learning from the pictures on the walls, not words from a textbook.
“The Holocaust is obviously a big part of history, a crucial part of history that always needs time spent on,” Krull stated. “The Holocaust was never presented to me in an educational [school] setting that was significant enough for me to remember.”
But why should young adults care about the Holocaust? Why should Huntington University students care? Surveyed Huntington University students — while having said they have received formal education on the Holocaust — consistently misstated basic facts about the event. But the Holocaust wasn’t the last genocide of its magnitude, and experts say the future is at stake.
The majority of Huntington University students admitted to having formal education on the Holocaust.
But there is evidence this education can be misguided.
“We have many students who have either read or seen ‘The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,’” (a work of historical fiction by John Boyne) said Jodi Elowitz, director of education and engagement at the Nancy and David Holocaust and Humanity Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, “which has very little to do with the realities of the Holocaust.”
In an email interview, Elowitz commented on how students lack historical context of the Holocaust that might lead to confusion or misinterpretation.
“Few know how many Jews lived in Germany in 1933, or how Hitler came to power,” stated Elowitz. “They also have confusion around how many victims, and have a hard time understanding the difference between concentration camps and killing Centers.”
She is not wrong.
While over fifty percent of Huntington University students claimed to have been given formal education on the Holocaust, only 24 percent of students were able to correctly state the number of victims claimed during the Holocaust.
Some might say the attention of educational systems and desire to learn about the historical event has allowed some students to have a more informed education on the Holocaust rather than others who have had little to no exposure to historically accurate facts.
Kennedy Krull had to learn about the Holocaust on her own time. This wasn’t true for Meg Dolde, German-born Huntington University senior.
“I am pretty sure we learn about the Holocaust once we start having history classes, which is grade 6,” said Dolde, a native of Bad Schoenborn, Germany. “Once German history was discussed in year 6, we then learn about world history.”
Dolde feels, given Germany’s history with the Holocaust, the population and education system values the lessons from the Holocaust and does not shy away from its memory.
“I believe it is very important to learn about one’s country’s history,” she said.
But when talking about world history, she said it is “important to every nation’s education system, since whatever happened in another nation is not going to affect just one nation.”
So why should American students learn about something that happened in Germany — a whopping 4,900 miles away?
Anti-semitism — the expressed hatred towards Jews — is present in 21st century United States, according to a study done by the Claims Conference. Anti-semitism was one of the most significant factors that led to the death of over six million Jews during the Holocaust.
Over fifty percent of Huntington University students either don’t think or are unsure if an event like the Holocaust could happen again.
But events like the Holocaust have happened since 1945.
“To ignore such episodes from history diminishes us as individuals,” said Tim Smith, associate professor of history, on the importance of teaching genocide at Huntington University.
Smith, a specialist in Southeast Asian studies, teaches a yearly course on the Cambodian genocide in the 1970s in which 1.7 million people were killed — almost forty years after the Holocaust.
Smith makes connections between the Cambodian genocide and the Holocaust. He uses resources like Alexander Laban Hinton’s Why did They Kill? to emphasize the importance of the severity of the two different genocides.
“I think that all of the students undergo a personal journal during the class that hopefully makes them better scholars, citizens and Christians,” said Smith.
Kennedy Krull is currently taking Smith’s Cambodia: Revolution and Genocide class.
“The things that I’ve learned in this class,” she said, “are things that more than just the history department students should learn.”
“By learning about the Cambodian genocide and Rwandan genocide [in 1994 in which almost a million were killed], it showed me that this is a real thing and that it could happen more than once unlike some people think,” Krull reflected.
The urgency of learning from the past and changing the present and future is a major part in the mission of the Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center.
“We exist to ensure the lessons of the Holocaust inspire action today,” director of education and engagement Jodi Elowitz stated.
“We cannot change the past,” Elowitz said, “but we do have the power to change our lives and community in this moment.”
To learn more, check out these resources on genocides mentioned in the article: