Recently a young junior high school student handed me an article about a Holocaust survivor who had given a speech at the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust. Apparently, this survivor’s family had made their living with a successful Krakow based chocolate factory. When the Nazis invaded, his family fled Poland, left the chocolate-making business, and their affluent lifestyle behind.
All completely fascinating and tragic.
One thing this survivor said really struck me as inaccurate. He indicated that today’s kids didn’t care about the Holocaust, that it doesn’t register with them. I disagree. He is of the opinion that the children only paid close attention to him because he illustrated his story with a tub of chocolate. Now this is even more of a discredit to students and young people today. Perhaps it was his experience when telling his story to others, or the slant of the journalist who wrote this article. I can’t say. But, I was starting to feel insulted for “today’s kids.”
I realize the tub of chocolate helped this particular survivor get through the rough nights and hard life he had to endure as small child. As one student said, “It was his happy place.” We all need that happy place from time to time to endure. But, I think the kids were interested in his story because they want to learn about the Holocaust. Simple and true.
In my limited experience, and my father-in-law’s vast experience, we find that the kids today do care about the Holocaust, it does register, and it impacts their lives forever after learning about it.
Recently I had the privilege and honor of speaking at a local high school about my father-in-law’s Holocaust experience. Since he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease it is hard for him to say what he wants to. I’ve become his voice. My father-in-law joined me at this presentation and we stood before a full auditorium of students. This was an after-school presentation and a lot of the students had prior activities scheduled that they couldn’t miss, still there were many students who sat in quiet rapt attention. Afterward, we opened the discussion to the audience for a question and answer session. I am always touched and impressed by the thought-provoking questions of these young people. When I told them that I had been hearing from some people that children today don’t care about the Holocaust I saw heads nodding in disagreement, and on some faces the look of outright indignation. No, this is not true. I find more and more students are just as interested in the Holocaust as I was when I was a student many years ago.
In today’s world kids see hardship, displacement, war, and tragedy. Kids are blended in from other countries with American students. They come from various cultures and backgrounds, so it is possible that the stories of the Holocaust resonate with them on a personal level.
Let’s show trust that the young people of today care about the Holocaust. And don’t hold back from teaching it to them, or talking about it out of some fear that they won’t hear the message. They really do want to know!