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Teaching about the Holocaust

This week the Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles, California hit the headlines when it gave its eighth grade students an essay assignment "...explain whether or not you believe the Holocaust was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth” causing outrage and despair in the Jewish communities and beyond. If this is how the educators think, what hope for the students? And this happened while there are still Holocaust survivors alive as witnesses.


News also this week that the world's oldest man is a Holocaust survivor, 111 year old Alexander Imich, who was born in Poland in 1903. (My grandparents were born in Poland in 1901 and 1902, what if they had survived too, would they have lived such a long life?  Possibly not, as Mr Imich puts his long life down to never having had children!). When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Imich and his wife Wela fled to the Soviet-occupied north of the country, where they were shipped to a labour camp for refusing to accept Soviet nationality. How incredible that the hardships endured in the labour camp would have no effect on the longevity of this gentleman, as was the case too for Alice Herz-Somer who had survived Theresienstadt camp and lived to 110 years before passing earlier this year.


This year will be 70 years since World War II ended so the youngest possible age for a Holocaust survivor is 70, which would be someone born in a camp or similar situation. Amazingly there were babies born even in the terrible conditions of the camps, the mothers having successfully hidden their pregnancies and the babies likewise hidden from birth, but these cases were not the norm. There is no documented number of surviving babies born in the camps but they were referred to as 'miracles' for good reason. The youngest survivors also would have no or little memories from the Holocaust (my mother, born in 1938, only remembered a handful of details from her infancy), and so it is really important that there are plans in place to ensure that teaching about the Holocaust does not lose momentum or impact when there are no survivors left to tell their stories in person.


In the UK No. 10 Downing Street has launched the Holocaust Commission's Call for Evidence to investigate whether further measures should be taken to ensure Britain has a permanent and fitting memorial and meaningful educational resources for generations to come, recognising that there is a danger that, as the events of the Holocaust become ever more distant, they will feel increasingly remote to current and future generations.  This is really encouraging and maybe The White House could learn a thing or two from No. 10?  Since starting my research I have been asked to speak to a class of 10 & 11 year olds, to tell my family story. My response was that as long as there are survivors able to tell their own stories then I will leave it up to them, as it is so much more powerful to hear from the actual survivor them-self, but when the survivors are no longer with us then I would be happy to share my story as a second generation survivor. 

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