Surprisingly high numbers of millennials and Generation Z Iowans have little to no knowledge of the Holocaust. Results from a recent survey by the Claims Conference was released after information was gathered from each state in America.
Those numbers astounded teachers in Marshalltown Community School District who are in the midst of teaching their students about the Holocaust.
Miller Middle School Language Arts Instructor Valerie Daters and ELL Teacher Stephanie Goos said the eighth-grade Holocaust unit they teach began last week.
“When we start, I always ask the students if they had heard of Anne Frank or the Holocaust,” Goos said. “Half of them say yes. The other half have not.”
Instruction about the Holocaust begins in middle school in MCSD.
“When we get them, we have to start with Holocaust background because it has not been covered yet,” Daters said. “We have to build that knowledge so they can learn about the discrimination and the concentration camps.”
That background knowledge is taken with students into Marshalltown High School where Shelly Chandler, an English teacher, has a Holocaust unit waiting for seniors. She began the 2021 unit a couple weeks ago, and exposes her students to such works as the graphic novel “Maus” by Art Spiegelman.
“That one really grabs the participants more than Anne Frank,” Chandler said. “In that book, the Nazis are depicted as cats and the Jews are mice.”
In her 34 years of teaching, Chandler said it can be particularly difficult for today’s students to grasp the Holocaust. Growing up with social media does not give them the ability to understand how events could not be known in current time.
“They know about what is happening now, and they don’t understand how the world did not know about the Holocaust,” she said.
For them, it is not the most horrible thing they have heard.
“9/11 was a horrible thing that happened,” Chandler said. “They know current events and that was a horrible thing. The Holocaust might be ancient history to their brains.”
Goos said one lesson they include in middle school is how to identify with a discriminated person, and what it feels like for society to negatively label you based on one characteristic. She said Anne Frank, prior to the Holocaust, was a normal girl. After she was labeled a Jew, her life drastically changed.
“We watch a video about Anne Frank of her stepsister talking about children killed in the camps,” Goos said. “Doing something like that might show them, because not a lot of them know. They do not grasp the horror of it.”
Whenever the unit arrives, Goos and Daters are ready for questions which inevitably come. If they do not know the answers themselves, they sit down with the student asking the question and look up the information.
“I want to learn, too,” Daters said. “We all learn together.”
A couple years ago, there was a small movement which did not gain traction on reducing Holocaust education in schools, as it was thought to be too traumatic for young minds. Even though it did not catch on, Daters hears concerns like that all of the time.
“We want kids to know what happened,” she said. “It is important kids know that there is no traction in such a movement.”
Goos said the diverse population of Marshalltown helps quell such movements, as many of the residents and students have experienced discrimination. Some of them faced the horrors of discrimination before moving to America from wartorn places such as Burma.
“A lot of our students have been discriminated against. They’re survivors and this is something they can connect to,” Goos said. “This is something we need to learn should never happen again. It is important students learn these things. I don’t see why people would not want their children to know about it, because that just makes them naive.”
CLAIMS CONFERENCE IOWA STATS:
• Can’t name a concentration camp or ghetto 41%
• Believe Jews caused the Holocaust 6%
• Did not know what Auschwitz was 31%
• Did not know 6 million Jews were killed
in the Holocaust 65%
• Believe two million or fewer were killed 34%
• Have Holocaust denial or distortion 51%
• Have seen Nazi symbols in communities
or social media 52%
• Believe it is important to include the
Holocaust in education 86%
Contact Lana Bradstreamat 641-753-6611 or firstname.lastname@example.org.