May 29, 2024
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The Importance of Holocaust Education

As soon as our children are born, we start worrying about what will hurt them and what will make them sad. My heart always breaks when I think about my children eventually learning about the Holocaust. My 8-year-old daughter is entering third grade this year and that is when children are slowly introduced to the Holocaust and the events that took place. I thought I had until Yom HaShoah, which takes place in late April, before needing to have any conversations with my daughter about the topic. Then this summer my daughter came to me and asked, “Mommy, what are Nazis?”

My heart stopped for a second and I asked where she came across Nazis. She was reading a book in which the main character remarks that she would rather face Nazis than deal with whatever it was she was dealing with. The way I explained it to my daughter was that there were two World Wars and Germany/the Nazis thought that they were better than everyone else: Jews, black people, Polish people, etc. Because they believed this, they tried to put everyone else in jail and steal all their property and belongings. This is why other countries, America, England, etc., joined the war in order to stop the Nazis. My daughter’s reaction was, “Wow, the character must really hate what she’s doing because the Nazis were really bad.” If only she knew the truth behind her words.

This interaction led me to think about what my children will be taught about the Shoah and how they will be taught about it. The way that I have been inculcated was that the Jews were powerless and “led like sheep to the slaughter.” There was nothing they could do to fight back. They didn’t have Israel to run to or an army to defend them.

Looking back as an adult I wonder if we do ourselves a disservice by saying we were “led like sheep to the slaughter” or were powerless and couldn’t fight back. We definitely didn’t have the manpower that we have today nor did we have our refuge, Israel. Because of this we will never allow another Holocaust to happen. However, I disagree with the idea of telling our children that we were complacent like sheep and unable to fight back because, despite being powerless, we definitely did fight back, and as Jews we have always fought back. I believe this idea needs to be more of a focus and should be highlighted when learning about the Holocaust.

There are many instances of Jews fighting back and of efforts to protect and defend ourselves. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the first significant urban revolt against German occupation in Europe. About 700 Jewish fighters held off the Germans for 27 days, which was almost as long as the 35 days that all of Poland lasted against the German invasion. The Jews knew their efforts were futile but viewed them as a battle for the honor of the Jewish people, and they swore that they would be the ones to determine their own deaths.

The escape from the Sobibor extermination camp was the largest prison escape of WWII. Starved, Jewish prisoners planned and executed the escape by stealing weapons, cutting the phone and power lines, killing many of the German commandants and guards and culminating in hundreds of Jews storming the gates and fleeing for freedom.

There were so many Jews who fled and hid and ran to the forests to become partisans. The Bielski Partisan group was one of the largest and most significant Jewish resistance and rescue efforts. This group saved over 1,200 Jews, composed mostly of women, children and the elderly, while they simultaneously carried out sabotage missions. They disabled German trains, blew up rail beds, destroyed bridges, facilitated escapes from Jewish ghettos, and killed many Germans and Belorussian collaborators.

Even the Jews who were already on the way to their deaths still showed their strength and their courage. Not everyone in the death camps was given this choice, but the mothers and caregivers who chose to go with their children to the gas chambers in order to protect them until the last moment were not sheep; those were warriors.

This is my daughter’s legacy. She is part of a nation of warriors who are proud of their heritage. This is the lens under which I want my children to learn about the Holocaust. As they grow older and learn more details, these are the details I want them to know. I want the Jewish people’s strength and will to survive highlighted while my children learn about the horrible atrocities that were inflicted upon their people. It still breaks my heart when I imagine my children learning about the Holocaust, but I know that they will be proud of their nation and secure in knowing that this will never happen again—and in knowing that the Jews never go down without a fight.


Lauren Klahr, LCSW, specializes in working with those struggling with mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. Lauren works virtually in private practice with those in New Jersey. She also works for Project S.A.R.A.H. with clients in domestic violence situations. To learn more or to schedule a consultation, please email: [email protected] or call (201) 357-0473.

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