For 72 years, the Holocaust has weighed on Germany’s national conscience, and it is still nearly impossible for many to comprehend. Between 11 and 17 million people, including 6 million Jews, lost their lives to the Nazis during their industrialized killing spree. And many corporations that we’re all too familiar with, like Bayer, took advantage of the cheap slave labor from Nazi concentration camps.
Many questions still arise while discussing the Holocaust today: Why did this happen, and even more terrifying, could this happen again?
These questions and more were the focus of the symposium, “Holocaust and Remembrance: Lessons for Today’s World,” held in the IU McKinney School of Law on Nov. 10. With numerous sessions throughout the day led by Dr. Bryan Fair, a board member of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Maya Shmoel of the Hasten Hebrew Academy, among others, the symposium tackled issues such as the rise of hate crimes in the United States and the importance of including Holocaust education in American education curriculums.
Dr. Fair’s morning presentation, entitled “The Rise of Hate Groups in America” emphasized the growing number of hate groups that the Southern Poverty Law Center has tracked. The Center defines a hate group as any entity that “vilifies others because of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity – prejudices that strike at the heart of our democratic values and fracture society along its most fragile fault lines.”
In the last year alone, the Center found an increase from 892 hate groups in 2015 to the now 917 groups as of this year. There are 26 groups currently being tracked by the Center in the state of Indiana, including the American Freedom Party and the Traditionalist Worker Party in Paoli, both white nationalist organizations.
Fair advocated for tighter restrictions on hate speech. He said that speech that solely exists to degrade others does not serve a purpose in society. Therefore it should not be protected by the First Amendment, he said.
An afternoon session titled “The Importance of Holocaust Education-K-12 and University-Lessons for All Humanity, for All Time-States’ Legal Requirements and New Legislative Initiatives Across the Country” focused on the importance of teaching the Holocaust in history classes, and how to do so without traumatizing students.
Led by Maya Shmoel, a Hebrew language teacher at Hasten Hebrew Academy and the daughter of a Romanian Holocaust survivor, the lecture shed light on the lack of adequate Holocaust education and the danger of forgetting the past.
Sharing personal examples, such as a high school teacher telling her niece that Jews willingly wore the Star of David to express pride in their faith, Shmoel expressed disdain for the way Holocaust education was handled. She felt that the suffering of the victims being downplayed, and advocated that Holocaust education be accessible to teachers.
While Shmoel’s curriculum at the Academy focuses on a non-traumatic approach for students, she found that appealing to a child’s sense of empathy is an effective way of teaching an event that many adults have difficulty fully understanding.
One method implemented in the curriculum for fifth grade students at the academy has the students read poetry and recollections of the Holocaust from children who lived through it. Students at the Academy also paint butterflies for children who died during the 12-year period after receiving a photograph and personal information about the child. This project, according to Shmoel, shows students at the Academy a face and a name. It gives, she said, the deceased “a voice through our students.”
Throughout the day-long symposium, eight lectures came together with two overarching themes: remembrance for the lives lost, and recognition of the horrors of history that we are all called upon to prevent from happening again.