Now a high-school junior, Gabriel Ascoli grew up hearing about the Holocaust from his grandfather, who “told about his perilous escape from fascist Italy as a teenager.” Hours after fleeing to Switzerland with his three-year-old sister, German soldiers showed up at his family’s home in Milan to take them to a concentration camp. Ascoli laments how few stories like his grandfather’s were taught in his Virginia public school, as well as the lack of Holocaust literacy nationwide. As anti-Semitism is on the rise and the “crucial connection” to Holocaust survivors fades, he writes, “Holocaust denialism will become easier and more mainstream.”
“What’s the difference between a Jew and a Boy Scout?” a friend asked, with a broad grin on his face, as I sat down in my seventh-grade science class. “The Boy Scout comes back from camp!” He and everyone else at my table burst out laughing. Did my classmates even know what they were laughing about? Upset but unsure, I feigned a smile. I am ashamed to say I said nothing.
I’m a junior in high school, and my formal education on the Holocaust has consisted of one slide with a brief depiction of concentration camps and a short worksheet. If this is all I’ve been taught, it’s no surprise that Holocaust knowledge nationwide is severely lacking.
Almost one in three American adults say they believe that fewer than 2 million people were killed, and about one in ten people aren’t sure the Holocaust even occurred. In a national survey, 11 percent of millennials and Gen Z report believing that Jews themselves created the Holocaust. To be clear: two-thirds of Europe’s Jewish population was murdered.
Eighty years later, anti-Semitism is on the rise. As a Jewish American, I’ve had to walk past security guards and a metal detector to enter my synagogue for fear of shootings. Swastikas have been painted on schools, Jewish centers, even a State Department elevator. When I recall the chants of “Jews will not replace us” by white supremacist protesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, it chills me to my core.