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March 12, 2010

Should the Holocaust be taught in American schools?

Should the Holocaust be taught in American schools? Unequivocally, YES.  But not in English class, nor in Social Studies, nor in any class except World History. The students need a background in history before they are introduced to the Holocaust.  The Holocaust didn’t happen in a vacuum; there was a lot of history that led up to it.

To give you an idea of why Holocaust students need a background in history, Otto Ohlendorf, one of the war criminals on trial at Nuremberg, defended his actions, on the witness stand,  as historically necessary to secure “lebensraum in the German East (Poland).” Then he started talking about the Thirty Years War.  The Thirty Years war took place from 1618 to 1648.  Ohlendorf was on trial because he had led one of the Einsatzgruppen units that executed Jews in Eastern Europe during World War II. So what did the Thirty Years War have to do with anything?  That’s what the prosecutors at Nuremberg wanted to know.

How can students understand the Holocaust if they don’t know anything about the Thirty Years War which changed the course of European history? How can students understand Nazi Germany if they know nothing about World War I?  In the future, the two World Wars will probably be taught as one war that lasted from 1914 to 1945; it might even be called the Thirty-one Years War.

Unfortunately, the teaching of the Holocaust in American schools is combined with teaching about Rwanda and Darfur and taught as the history of genocide, not as European history.

When I went to school, back in the Dark Ages, we started studying World History in the 5th grade; by the time I finished the 8th grade, we had studied everything up to and including World War I.  My grandchildren didn’t study history of any kind, except the Holocaust and black history, until the 9th grade. Up until the 9th grade, they had “Social Studies” instead of history.

How can today’s students understand “the Third Reich” if they don’t know anything about the First Reich?  I can still visualize my 5th Grade World History book that had a picture of Charlemagne on the cover.  I couldn’t wait to learn about Charlemagne, but I didn’t cheat by reading ahead in the book.  Today’s 5th graders can tell you who Adolf Eichmann was, but Charlemagne — who cares about him? Every high school student in America can tell you what the Einsatzgruppen were, but the Thirty Years War, they don’t know.

Teaching the Holocaust is mandatory in American schools in 5 states.  The most important aspect of this instruction is that the Holocaust is allowed to be taught in any class, not necessarily in a history class.  It can be taught in music or art classes or in a reading class. Holocaust survivors are brought in to tell their stories to the students.  But the students have no background in history, so they can’t evaluate these stories; they just soak up everything like a sponge and don’t question anything because they don’t know what questions to ask.

It used to be that American History was a required course for college students.  Now the students can fulfill this requirement by studying Black History, or Women’s History or the Holocaust.  No one cares about American History any more, much less World History.  Now it is only the history of minorities and second class citizens, who have been victimized, that is important.

I think schools should teach the Holocaust, but in order to get into the class, the students should be required to pass a test in World History. That way, Holocaust classes would be open to 5th graders, but only if they have the background to understand it.

The film Schindler’s List, which is based on a novel, should not be shown in schools, except to students who know enough about history to understand which parts of the movie are true and which parts are fiction.


  1. The Halocaust is something that should never be forgotten. Whether your Jewish or not. It’s a lesson for all of us how people can be manipulated and mislead by lies.
    Yes American history isn’t any less important, but that’s not all there is, and children should know what happens beyond their borders.
    Much like the poster I had a broad History class. I was taught about the Romans, medicine throughout the ages, world war 1 and two, the Russian Revoulation, the American civil war, the British civil wars, the Weimar republic, the Halocaust… Some other subjects I probably forgot as well. However, I think History should be broad.

    Comment by Amanda — April 15, 2010 @ 4:30 am

  2. Well, at least I graduated when teachers did care about American history. And I got an A in world history.

    It must have been later that they changed these standards (lowered them).

    As for Holocaust education, students should learn the basics, but it should not replace the study of US history.

    Comment by Paul — March 12, 2010 @ 8:04 pm

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