The Dark Side of Holocaust Education

Sept. 23 2020
About Ruth

Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish and comparative literatures at Harvard and a distinguished senior fellow at Tikvah. Her memoir Free as a Jew: a Personal Memoir of National Self-Liberation, chapters of which appeared in Mosaic in somewhat different form, is out from Wicked Son Press.

On May 29, President Trump signed into law the Never Again Education Act—passed with near-unanimity by both houses of a bitterly divided Congress. The act sets aside $10 million for Holocaust education, to be spent over the next five years, and declares that “learning how and why the Holocaust happened is an important component of the education of citizens of the United States.” Behind it stands the reasoning—widely accepted by Jews and Gentiles alike—that teaching about the Shoah can help serve as an antidote to the “hate” that caused it. Ruth Wisse is skeptical:

[T]he destruction of European Jewry was not about “hate.” The mass murder of 6 million Jews began [when a political] party came to power by organizing politics against the Jews. The politics of grievance and blame may indeed foment hatred, distrust, envy, rage, fear, and violence, but it is primarily a political instrument for gaining, wielding, and extending power. Anti-Semitism draws on centuries of anti-Jewish teaching and opposition, but it assumes greater political potency when leaders need to win the allegiance of voters and followers. Hitler ran on this platform and used it in the conquest of other nations, inviting their citizens to join in the killing and plundering of the Jews. Some people [even] organized against Jews without hating them. . . . Fighting political evil takes political will, which requires political perception.

Holocaust education as currently defined introduces Jews at their lowest point in history—as victims, humiliated, suffering, starved, pursued, despised, and turned to ashes. . . . When I began teaching at Harvard in 1993, I was told that at least half the entering class had not taken a history course beyond the ninth grade. Yet even the best of students—the ones accepted to places like Harvard—are being forced to learn about the Jews first and foremost as victims of the Nazis. Among those being introduced to Jews in this form are many American Jews who have no other Jewish education, and certainly none as dramatic as this federally supported curriculum.

[But] education that centers on the Holocaust violates the spirit of America, which is about the attainment and protection of freedom and a constant drive for self-improvement. Americans and Jews won their freedom in wars of independence. America fought a civil war against slavery and to remain united. Nazism and Communism would rule the world had it not been for American military resistance. Israelis fight for their existence every day of their lives and suffer great losses whenever they relax their vigilance. Now as ever, only the will to fight for the good can defeat the forces of evil, and a peace-loving people that does not train for self-defense will suffer the fate of the Jews of Europe. The perversity of teaching about the Holocaust rather than American and Jewish struggles for freedom extracts the wrong lesson from a horrifying precedent.

Read more at National Affairs

More about: Anti-Semitism, Education, Holocaust, U.S. Politics

What Is the Biden Administration Thinking?

In the aftermath of the rescue of four Israeli hostages on Friday, John Podhoretz observes some “clarifying moments.” The third strikes me as the most important:

Clarifying Moment #3 came with the news that the Biden administration is still calling for negotiations leading to a ceasefire after, by my count, the seventh rejection of the same by Hamas since Bibi Netanyahu’s secret offer a couple of weeks ago. Secretary of State Blinken, a man who cannot say no, including when someone suggests it would be smart for him to play high-school guitar while Ukraine burns, will be back in the region for the eighth time to urge Hamas to accept the deal. Why is this clarifying? Because it now suggests, here and for all time, that the Biden team is stupid.

Supposedly the carrot the [White House] is dangling in the region is a tripartite security deal with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Which would, of course, be a good thing. But like the stupid people they are now proving to be, they seem not to understand the very thing that led the Saudis to view Israel as a potential ally more than a decade ago: the idea that Israel means business and does what it must to survive and built itself a tech sector the Saudis want to learn from. Allowing Hamas to survive, which is implicitly part of the big American deal, will not lead to normalization. The Saudis do not want an Iranian vassal state in Palestine. Their entire foreign-policy purpose is to counter Iran. I know that. You know that. Everybody in the world knows that. Even Tony Blinken’s guitar is gently weeping at his dangling a carrot to Israel and Saudi Arabia that neither wants, needs, nor will accept.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Antony Blinken, Gaza War 2023, Joseph Biden, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship