I was planning to write today about the ship St. Louis, which was carrying Jewish passengers to Cuba. When the passengers were turned away, the St. Louis then docked in an American port but the Jews were not allowed to enter the United States. Then I read a comment made on this post that I wrote a year ago, and decided to update it.
Here is a quote from the original news article that this post was based on:
MONROE — For several weeks, ninth graders at Monroe High School had been assigned to read Elie Wiesel’s memoir Night.
The book Mr. Wiesel penned more than 50 years ago was used to introduce the approximately 300 students to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
Last week, they learned about multiple facets of one of history’s darkest chapters, with some of them getting a firsthand account from a woman who lived through it.
Over a one-hour period, students were jammed standing up into a space that simulated a railroad car. They tasted cabbage and bread, the typical meal given to Jews in concentration camps. In one class, they learned of the staggering number of people killed.
Mr. Wiesel’s book, required reading for the ninth graders’ English class, and the classroom sessions were for Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1.
Deborah Mau, an English teacher who helped organize the program, said the main focus was to have students delve deeply into the Holocaust and World War II. “This gives them a lesson on tolerance and recognizing that not everyone has to look like you and to accept people for their differences and uniqueness,” she said.
Nine segments ranging from stories about Holocaust survivors to slides on Dachau to poetry and Jewish holidays were available. Students could attend three sessions.
I am sorry that my criticism of the Monroe High School program offended anyone, but I truly feel that students in the 9th grade should not be taught about the Holocaust in this way. First of all, Elie Wiesel’s book Night should be taught as literature, not as a way to “introduce students to the atrocities of the Holocaust.” The atrocities in the book Night are fiction, and the book should be taught as fiction. Babies were not thrown, alive, into a burning ditch at Auschwitz, and students should be told that this atrocity did not happen.
The students who were on the pretend “march to the death camps” should have been told that prisoners were marched OUT of the death camps, not TO the death camps. They were marched out to get them out of a war zone and into a safer camp. The purpose of these marches was to save the lives of the prisoners, not march them to their death. Elie Wiesel volunteered to join the march out of Auschwitz and was then taken to the Buchenwald camp where he survived.
The students, who were fed cabbage and bread, should have been told that Heinrich Himmler, who was in charge of all the concentration camps, had a degree in Agriculture and he was growing cabbage, using the method of organic gardening, which was pioneered by the Germans. The bread given to the prisoners was whole grain bread, not the fluffy white bread that Americans were eating during World War II. The students should have been told that food was rationed in all countries during World War II, including America.
The students, who had to stand for an hour in a crowded space, should have been told that, during World War II, there was a scarcity of trains and even upper class German citizens were riding in cattle cars.
These students were taught “a lesson on tolerance and recognizing that not everyone has to look like you and to accept people for their differences and uniqueness.” Teaching tolerance is fine, but it is wrong to tell high school students that the Jews were deported to camps because of “intolerance or differences or uniqueness.” This is a touchy subject that might be too offensive to teach in the 9th grade, but the students should at least have been told that one of the main reasons that the Jews were kicked out was because Hitler, and many of the German people, thought that the Jews were responsible for causing Germany to lose World War One.
The students should have been taught that the “staggering number of people” who were killed is unknown. The numbers keep changing and there are no records to prove the “staggering number.” The “staggering number” of people killed in the Holocaust should be taught in context with the number of non-Jews killed during World War II, who were not in concentration camps.
The students should have been taught that the reasons for genocide vary from one country to another, but there is always a reason that a group of people are targeted. Genocide is not caused by intolerance or racism or differences between people. Jews have been targeted for thousands of years, in many different countries, and it is not because of their religion.
The students should have been told that there were “internment camps” in America where Japanese-Americans, citizens of Germany, and German-Americans were imprisoned in violation of the American constitution. German-Americans, who had not committed any crime, were kept in these camps for two years AFTER the war. German citizens were kidnapped in South America and brought to America to be put into the internment camps.
There was a war going on when the Holocaust happened. The students should have been told about the war crimes committed by BOTH sides during World War II. Along with the lessons on the “death camps” for Jews, the students should also learn about Eisenhower’s “death camps.”
Continue reading my original post:
According to a news article on the Toledo Blade website, 9th graders in Monroe, Ohio are spending several weeks learning about the horrors of the Holocaust in preparation for Holocaust Remembrance Day on May 1st. How many Holocaust Remembrance Days are there? Enough, already.
The Toledo students saw a slide show on the cremation ovens at Dachau; they ate cabbage and bread just like the concentration camp prisoners and even stood for an hour in a cramped space to feel what it was like to be jammed into a railroad car on the way to a death camp. Prior to this, they had spent several weeks reading Elie Wiesel’s book “Night.”
What are these students supposed to learn from this? Elie Wiesel is still alive and in better health than I am. He did not mention cremation ovens in “Night.” For you old folks, who have not had the benefit of a modern education, here is what the ovens at Dachau look like.
The students participated in a “Remembrance Walk” through a school hallway in which a “march to the death camps” was re-enacted. A picture of the march is shown on the Toledo Blade website, but it is not clear whether this is a re-enactment of a march to Auschwitz, which was a death camp, or a march of the Auschwitz survivors to one of the death camps in Germany (Dachau, Buchenwald and Mauthausen) after Auschwitz was abandoned. Elie Wiesel survived the march to Buchenwald.
According to the Toledo Blade, “Monroe teacher Karla Perez gave presentations on genocide. She explained to students that more than 9 million were killed in the death camps, but that the atrocities of World War II continued with the genocides in Darfur in Sudan, Cambodia, and Rwanda.”
This implies that there is a connection between the genocide of World War II and more recent genocides in Darfur, Cambodia and Rwanda. What are the students in 9th grade English classes supposed to learn from all this?
There were 11 million people killed in the death camps — 6 million Jews and 5 million others. But what about the millions of “expellees” who died after World War II? For 17 years, the former Dachau concentration camp was home to ethnic Germans who were expelled from Czechoslovakia. Wouldn’t a slide show about these homeless refugees be better than photos of the Dachau ovens?
When I was in 9th grade, we learned English grammar and English literature in English class, not Holocaust literature. Why do students in America now spend weeks learning about something that happened in Germany and Poland 65 years ago? Is this supposed to teach tolerance? I think that this is the way to teach INTOLERANCE.
Update, April 24, 2100:
In a comment, a reader asked what Harvard Professor of Literature Stephen Greenblatt would make of my 20th century English education. In a letter to the New York Times on 30th August 2005 Greenblatt wrote: “Should claims that the Holocaust did not occur also be made part of the standard curriculum?” He was referring to the standard school curriculum in America which, by law, must include instruction in the history of the Holocaust.
The phrase “the Holocaust did not occur” or “the Holocaust never happened” is used by “Holocaust True Believers” to make “Holocaust deniers” seem stupid. Of course the Holocaust happened. It is the details of Holocaust history that are in dispute.
When I visited Berlin, before the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe was built, there was a billboard at the future site of the memorial. Below is a picture of the sign.
The message on this billboard was intended to be facetious, but some people took it literally, and the sign had to be taken down. You can read about the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe here.