Many of us have heard, read or watched numerous presentations on the Holocaust. If you are a baby-boomer you have heard about it virtually from birth since it was still fresh in the minds of your parents generation. In fact, it is not uncommon for some people to feel as if they have been over saturated by the sheer volume of information disseminated about that horrific time in human history. Yet we can almost all agree that it is important to continue to convey the lessons taught to us by this terrible event. With all of the information put out about the Holocaust, how do you extract from it the most important points to teach to your children?
The first step in passing along to your children the important points and lessons from the Holocaust is to examine your own understanding of it. While there are innumerable personal stories of tragedy and some of triumph, the actual lesson pertinent to all generations is sometimes not immediately apparent. You might be surprised to realize that, despite being overwhelmed with the history of the people and events of that time, your ability to elucidate the truly important points is almost embarrassingly limited. Furthermore, you may also become concerned that your lack of in-depth philosophical knowledge may adversely affect your ability to teach it to your children. As such, some parents will choose to just ignore the details of the Holocaust and rely on the children’s schools to teach them the most important elements. However, that course of inaction would be an unfortunate mistake.
In reality, there is not a great deal of in-depth philosophical knowledge to be gleaned from the Holocaust. While some people might see such a comment as heresy, the truth is that the lessons from that time are very simple and straightforward. In fact, that may be precisely why you don’t feel very well equipped to teach it. Rather than having some earth-shakingly profound comments on the Holocaust, all you can come up with is how horrifically wrong it was. And the truth is, that is exactly the point. While growing up, children are constantly being told that this or that is bad or good, good or evil or right and wrong. After a time recognition of these concepts in real-life situations becomes almost automatic and most situations require very little thought to be sorted out. In the case of the Holocaust one often gets the sense that there is much more to be learned. As far as children are concerned, that is both correct and incorrect. Most people, including youngsters, can quickly figure out that the murder of millions of Jewish people, Catholics, gypsies and several other minority groups was wrong. What might be a bit more difficult is teaching the understanding how it happened, how incredibly evil it was and what can be done to prevent it from happening again.
For many the temptation is to teach how wrong it was by emphasizing the sheer quantity of human lives taken. While there is no argument that such massive executions seem much more horrific than a single murder, what children need to understand is that such a thing actually occurred in what was believed to be a civilized society. And that said murders, though not openly advertised, were known by many thousands of people, both military and civilian. They need to know that evil is not something limited to one person at a time. It has in the past, and likely will in the future, grip and corrupt entire societies as well as individuals. Civilization and technologic advancement are no guarantee of immunity to evil. The understanding that needs to be taught is that each individual must be forever vigilant and be ready to stand up against those people who, driven by depraved and corrupt minds, are willing to wreak catastrophe upon their fellow man.
Teaching our children the lessons of the Holocaust as a case of institutionalized and societal evil instead of just a group of people gone bad, is important to the understanding of the true nature of such heinousness. The ability of people like Hitler, Pol Pot and Stalin to motivate large groups of people to commit mass murder seems like it would be impossible in this day and age. Young people need to understand that it is just this very belief and the accompanying complacency that allowed the Jews and others to be rounded up and killed in such huge numbers without initially strong objections from good people.
No society of humans, democratic or not, is safe from hate and mass murder. The only hope of preventing such horrors in the future is by helping our children comprehend that the veneer of so-called civil society is exceedingly thin and fragile. The best modern day example of smoldering evil trying to break through that veneer is the Holocaust revisionists/deniers. These people preach that the Holocaust is a lie and that it never happened. You don’t have to give it much thought to understand who they are and what their motives are. In fact, their use of that type of propaganda is a well-defined technique used by Nazi Germany during the process of exterminating human beings. Telling such a lie loud enough and often enough eventually makes it true in the eyes of those that want to believe it is so.
Children need to understand the critical importance of individual rights, generalized tolerance and the immediate accountability of those in power. An example of an effective mechanism to resist despotism, governmental persecution and the summary execution of those people not in favor at the moment, is the U.S. Constitution. While not perfect by any means, it was crafted with all of the thought and care of brilliant men intending to resist current and future tyranny. Each Constitutional right was a carefully thought out counter to government oppression and abuse. Yet even with such powerful controls, eternal vigilance is still necessary. There is no other way to avoid the inevitable attempts by those in power to increase that power. Freedom is anathema to governmental power and malevolence, it must be jealously and uncompromisingly guarded by the people.
Government, irrespective of what type, has no conscience or any sense of right and wrong. The only way to control any type of government is by rigid limitations on its ability to subjugate the people and take away their individual liberties. Virtually no rights surrendered to the government will ever be returned to the people freely and without force. Governments, under the guise of providing more security for the people, have committed unbelievable atrocities. As each right is surrendered, a society comes closer and closer to its own human catastrophe. Our children must understand the lessons of the Holocaust and never forget what happened when a group of people failed to recognize and resist the true evil of their government. They paid for their surrender to said evil with their lives!