The eternal flame of Holocaust education

Just a week before International Holocaust Memorial Day, the passing of the UN resolution to fight Holocaust denial and strengthen Holocaust education has served as a timely reminder of the urgency of the issue. The last generation to hear directly from Holocaust survivors has already been born. We will soon enter the era whereby the Shoah is no longer a living memory.

My generation—those with grandparents who were survivors—are now parents. We grew up with grandparents who personally instilled in us the vital duty of remembering the Holocaust. The next generation, however, no longer necessarily have this same personal connection.

And there are deep consequences to this demographic reality.

For my generation, “Never Again” is a pillar of our identities as Jews—the Shoah is a deeply personal family trauma. For our children, we risk that the Holocaust becomes just another abstract historical tragedy. It is up to us, the third generation, to be the bridge of remembrance to our children and future generations.

On this International Holocaust Memorial Day, we must declare that our time has come to shoulder this burden of education and commit ourselves to ensure that our children do not just learn about the Holocaust in textbooks and films, but they feel it, understand it, and internalize it. 80 years later – it’s our time.

The global pandemic and a simultaneous rise in global antisemitism have illustrated just how critical Holocaust education efforts are, and just how much it is lacking.

Public debate about the pandemic has seriously belittled and disrespected the memory of the Holocaust. Vaccination ID cards have been compared to yellow stars. Public health officials have been likened to Nazis. Quarantines have been compared to concentration camps. This reckless rhetoric serves to distort and trivialize the horrors of the Shoah.

Moreover, in the digital era, there is a unique challenge for Holocaust education. Our children have grown up online, inundated with social media, and for the past two years have even been attending classes virtually. The coronavirus pandemic has illustrated just how important in-person learning is. The importance of seeing, feeling and touching history – up, close and personal.

The memory of my grandmother, Tamara Ziserman, has been a deep source of personal strength as I work to ensure my generation and the next carry the torch of Holocaust remembrance.

She was saved from the Nazis by their neighbors the Chodosevitches—a righteous Christian family. My grandmother never forgot the heroism of the Chodosevitch family and ensured they were enshrined by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

My grandmother Tamara’s story continues to inspire me to get involved and challenge young adults around the world to be like my mother and the Chodosevitch family. To stand up against prejudice, racism, bullying and hatred, and to build up bonds between young Jews and non-Jews all over the world.

This is what inspired me, to invest my time and efforts into organizations like Courage to Care, and March of the Living – the latter of which in particular has long been a leading international force, centering their Holocaust education efforts on curating meaningful experiences for the over 260,000 individuals who have participated in their programming. Each year, March of the Living organizes student delegations to Auschwitz-Birkenau, giving the younger generations a chance to reckon with the totality of the Holocaust on a personal basis. These visits ensure that the memory of the survivors will forever endure and remain in the consciousness of young people.

Of note, March of the Living engages with significant numbers of non-Jews. This is vital to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust is not just limited to the Jewish community.  Participants of all religions and nationalities join to promote a more tolerant world, to actively combat antisemitism, racism, and extremism. Once again, and sadly, these are vital events and projects that have fallen foul of the pandemic.

As we look toward the day after the lockdowns and COVID restrictions around the world, we must all look to reinforce efforts to ensure that our children and their children will continue the work of Holocaust remembrance. To carry on the lessons of the Shoah in their daily lives. Lessons of carnage and horror, but also ones of strength, courage, and the persistence of the Jewish people.

This decade will be the last one that we share with survivors of the Holocaust. It is up to all of us to ensure their memories persist, and that those dark days are never again repeated.

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