Holocaust education: we’ve lost our way

Avrum Rosensweig

I’m nervous for our people.

This is because so many Jews have begun to stagnate as activists and protectors of ourselves and others. We are quiet about the world’s suffering, whereas we used to be louder, and we have misused Holocaust education so that it has become a form of entertainment.

Why is it that we continue to build one Holocaust memorial after another, frequently forgetting or minimizing the suffering of others? Why do so many of us keep on visiting these edifices of gloom, over and over, walking through them and sighing desperately about being persecuted but never lifting a finger to help others? Why is that the response is so frequently a passive one? 

Why don’t we instead imagine the impoverished in Israel, particularly Holocaust survivors, and ask ourselves how we can leap to their assistance? Why, upon leaving another Holocaust memorial, do we not consider helping the millions of HIV orphans in sub-Saharan Africa, or visiting the poor shut-ins in our own cities?

Why do we continue to make another trip to Poland and visit Auschwitz and the other death camps? How does such a trip change things within our community, amongst our people? And what are we accomplishing for the world that we all share? Is it enough to cry as we walk along the tracks never bombed by the Allies? Do we simply return home and tell those who will listen that we are aghast at the piles of shoes we saw, shoes that once fit snugly on Jewish feet? 

Why are we not telling ourselves and others, “I saw the remnants of the death camps and I will therefore not allow the Aboriginal people suffering in 2015 to die. I will not allow the millions of slaves in the world today to be abused, to be thrown about like a ripped and ugly rag.” 

And why do we think that remembering is enough, that it actually accomplishes something? How does remembering help the Jewish People, the State of Israel, the world in which we live or the people who cry out for our help? 

Remembering is easy. It takes no effort. It has become self-indulgent. I remember that little boy who so bravely climbed over the walls of the Warsaw Ghetto to find food for his dying family. So you remember him! Why are you not emulating his actions? Why do you not watch that film, or read that book on the Holocaust, and say, “It is our turn, living in the safest country ever, perhaps the best time in history for the Jewish People. We should now climb over that metaphoric wall ourselves and feed those who are dying today from malnutrition, Jew and non-Jews.”

How does remembering help anyone?

Holocaust education has lost its way and, I’m afraid, so have we. I’m worried about you and I worry about me and my son. I’m concerned that we’ve turned Holocaust education into entertainment and have no intention of really learning from it, but rather enjoy, in a crooked way, the sorrow it brings us. I’m worried that so many of us are painfully quiet and not at all concerned about the world in which we live – a position entirely anathema to the essence of Judaism.

It is time we asked ourselves some very challenging questions: what are we learning at this point from Holocaust education? What is our goal in spending millions of dollars on one more memorial? Why aren’t we activists anymore? What did we mean when we said “never again”?

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