Sunday Reflections: What Do We Mean Both Sides of the Holocaust?
PLEASE NOTE: TRIGGER WARNING: THE HOLOCAUST AND GENOCIDE AND ANTI-LGBTQ THOUGHTS ARE DISCUSSED IN THIS POST
Several weeks ago, I took my youngest child (13) to downtown Dallas and stumbled on the Dallas Holocaust and Human Rights Museum. So we made an impulse decision, and we went to the museum. I am very aware that there has been a lot of discussion in the news about “teaching both sides” of the Holocaust. At the time, I was also listening to The Assignment by Liza Weimer and she was hearing snippets of that as well.
The first thing that stood out to me in the museum is just the mountains of primary resources we have regarding the Holocaust. A primary resource is an original document or object that takes place in the specific time period and is a gold standard of resource in part because it’s not someone’s interpretation of an interpretation of an interpretation of events, but a document of a time and a place as it happened. There is a ton of documentation about the atrocities of the Holocaust in part because the Nazis themselves were in fact incredibly proud of their tactics and documented it. There are newsreels of large crowds doing the Heil Hitler salute. There are written laws. Letters. And photos. So many photos. There is so much primary documentation that it is impossible to deny that the Holocaust happened. Make no mistake, I understand that many do try to deny this, but seeing the abundance of primary resources it’s hard to understand how they could even try.
At one point in the museum, you enter a railway train car as they show video footage and play audio of people talking about how the Jewish people were rounded up and put on these cars, how many thousands of people, and what happened to them. It was one of the most horrific and visceral experiences of true evil I have ever experienced in a museum setting.
The museum makes a point of highlighting how the Holocaust impacted other targeted groups, including the disabled and the LGBTQ community. When we got to this part of the museum, I could not hold back any longer and the flood gates opened. I explained to my youngest how her older sibling identified as LGBTQ and how even today, right now, groups were increasing their attacks on marginalized communities including the LGBTQ community and how I was so afraid for her sister, what they would do to her if the attacks kept increasing.
After the emotional day of visiting the museum, we went home and finished reading The Assignment. The Assignment is a book about a teacher who assigns a debate where the students are tasked with debating both sides of The Final Solution. This means that some of the students are tasked with making an argument that killing the Jewish people, the final solution, was an acceptable or correct or worthy course of action. And some of the students protest the assignment. As the protest mounts, incidents of racism increase within the community. In the end, an actual Holocaust survivor is brought in to speak to the community. It’s a book inspired by real and recent events as many schools have started to insist that we need our curriculum to look at “both sides” of the Holocaust.
But what does that mean?
If the question is, did the Holocaust happen? The undisputed answer is yes, yes it did. We have thousands, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of pieces of primary resources that prove the Holocaust was real and deadly. There are letters, laws, photos, news reel and more. There are even still standing concentration camps and gas chambers which make it impossible to deny the truth of the Holocaust, despite the best efforts of some.
The fact of the Holocaust is that the hatred and prejudice in the hearts of humanity rose up and decided that they want to commit a genocide against several groups of people resulting in the murder of 6 million Jews and many more disabled, LGBTQ, Romani and other people groups. The only other side to that is that you think the genocide of a people group you hate is an acceptable solution.
There are just some issues that I think there cannot be more than one side to. The Holocaust happened and it was evil and unacceptable. Genocide is inhumane. Racism and prejudice are hateful and cause great harm.
As a mom, as a Christian, as a human, I have been greatly disturbed to see what feels like rising Fascism and Naziism here in my timeline. I have worked hard to tell my children the truth, what to look for, and what it means to be a loving, compassionate human and Christian. Many people think we shouldn’t be teaching our children about the Holocaust or slavery or LGBTQ history because it’s “too hard”. But the truth is, what they mean is it is too hard for straight, white children. Children like mine. Because children from marginalized groups don’t get to escape the too hard, they have to live it starting at a young age.
I am glad that my child and I spent this summer day learning about how truly evil humans can be if they don’t pay attention and be purposeful and intentional in how they live their lives. It was a hard and emotional day, but necessary. Parenting isn’t always about Pinterest parties and homemade cookies, it’s about raising educated, compassionate humans that make the world a better place for themselves and their fellow humans. Sometimes, that means talking about hard truths and digging into the darkest parts of human history.
About THE ASSIGNMENT
In the vein of the classic The Wave and inspired by a real-life incident, this riveting novel explores discrimination and antisemitism and reveals their dangerous impact.
SENIOR YEAR. When an assignment given by a favorite teacher instructs a group of students to argue for the Final Solution, a euphemism used to describe the Nazi plan for the genocide of the Jewish people, Logan March and Cade Crawford are horrified. Their teacher cannot seriously expect anyone to complete an assignment that fuels intolerance and discrimination. Logan and Cade decide they must take a stand.
As the school administration addressed the teens’ refusal to participate in the appalling debate, the student body, their parents, and the larger community are forced to face the issue as well. The situation explodes, and acrimony and anger result. What does it take for tolerance, justice, and love to prevail?
I highly recommend this book
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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