Rethinking Holocaust Education

A Call To Move Beyond the Horror for a Future Generation

Christopher Walsh

By Simi Lampert

Published August 29, 2012, issue of August 31, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I am the grandchild of three Holocaust survivors. My grandfather had the line of numbers tattooed on his arm, and they all had the terrible memories, the terrible losses.

During my middle school years, now a decade ago, many of us went through what we consider our Holocaust phase. I read every book on the topic I could find, from young adult stories to ghastly nonfiction accounts. And for a year or two I had nightmares about mass murders and torture that were as real to me as my suburban, private-school American life.

Growing up, my school seemed just as involved in remembering the Holocaust as I was. Every year we took trips to Holocaust museums and sat through special classes about the Holocaust. We once even had a Holocaust “fair,” in which each grade set up booths for different aspects of the Holocaust. And, of course, there was the steady stream of survivors who came in to discuss their memories from before the war, their experiences in death camps or work camps, and, inevitably, their joy at seeing the successful continuation of the next generation of Jews.

As young, impressionable students, these speeches left a mark on us. I left the talks feeling more sympathetic for my grandparents, knowing a bit more about the atrocities they’d been through. I felt, in some ways, connected to the past. And I felt the burdens incumbent on us as “the future.”

I never found this strange or unhealthy; this was how I dealt with the guilt of not having been part of the wrong generation — of being one of the lucky ones, of being a Jew who didn’t need to worry about pogroms or gas chambers. But, looking back, I think it was too much.

And I am not the only one. Many young adults are beginning to resent the ways in which the Holocaust has been taught, rejecting the intense focus on it as a central part of history and wishing to embrace a more uplifting Jewish identity.

I don’t know whether my school intended me to react to these programs in the way that I did. In fact, I’m not entirely sure what the point of these programs was to begin with. I gained something personal from them, but I also walked around as a 10-year-old with the guilt of 6 million Jews resting on my narrow shoulders. Luckily, the Modern Orthodox culture that I grew up in offered me many other Jewish pathways — community, giving and learning — so the Holocaust did not make up my entire Jewish identity.

In February, the Beacon, a Modern Orthodox paper that I started at Yeshiva University, ran an article by Binyamin Weinreich arguing for less focus on the Holocaust in the Jewish community. Though the article attracted negative attention for its bold and even callous phrasing, the sentiment nevertheless reflected a growing trend, again displayed in a recent Tablet magazine article by Anna Breslaw. In that piece, Breslaw lays out her suspicions that Holocaust survivors likely had to perform heinous deeds to survive, and argues that younger Jews feel differently about the Holocaust than do their elder counterparts.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.