Wednesday, December 04, 2019

The Holocaust and Antisemitism

When I was in college I took a course called "The Holocaust and Antisemitism." The professor, Ken Waltzer, explained that you can't learn about the Holocaust without having a thorough understanding of the history of antisemitism. He was correct.

I'm now teaching my own college course about the Holocaust and much of my syllabus is based on Professor Waltzer's course from over twenty years ago. A few weeks ago I took my class on a tour of the Holocaust Memorial Center of Metropolitan Detroit (the nation's first freestanding Holocaust museum). As we walked around the museum I explained to the students that while the Holocaust is a historical event that happened decades ago, the antisemitism that led up to it continues to this day.

There were 1,879 acts of antisemitism in 2018 according to the Anti-Defamation League, including the attack on the three congregations sharing the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Over the past week alone, we have seen the antisemitic incident of anti-Semitic graffiti carved into a door and drawn on a stairway at the Sixth & I Historic Synagogue in Washington. We have seen selling Christmas ornaments, towels and mousepads with glorified photos of the Auschwitz death camp. Jewish students are threatened on college campuses and the Jews in London are considering emigrating en masse if Jeremy Corbyn is elected.

Yesterday, as I was on a conference call discussing the upcoming #WeRemember campaign that the World Jewish Congress is launching for the 4th straight year in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I walked into the university building where I teach my weekly Holocaust class at the University of Detroit Mercy. It was ironic that I was about to teach 34 non-Jewish students about the Holocaust while I was talking about the need for more Holocaust education so the atrocities of the Shoah won't be repeated. Still on the phone, I walked down a stairwell and saw a swastika drawn on the wall next to six neo-Nazi Wolfsangel symbols.

I brought my entire class into the stairwell and we crowded there as I showed them the symbols of hate on the wall of their university. I asked them what they thought we should do about it. I asked them how they would take what they learned over the course of the past semester in our Holocaust class and use that knowledge to educate their peers, their future children, and their future coworkers. How sad is that only seven decades since the Holocaust there is still so much senseless hate in this world?


Alan Jay Gerber said...

What an experience you must be having. I can well appreciate your task with your students. For over a decade [1980's 1990's] I taught the Holocaust in English literature at FDR High School in Brooklyn to mostly non-Jewish students, many of them immigrants from ALL over the world. Many lessons were learned by all... both by my students from me and by myself from them.
Alan Jay Gerber
Cedarhurst, NY

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