From the murderous terrorist attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris that left four people dead, to the recent synagogue attack that killed a Jewish man in Denmark, we are constantly reminded that the specter of anti-Semitism is still alive 70 years after the Nazi death camps were liberated.
As president of the largest private institution of higher education in U.S. under Jewish auspices, I believe Holocaust Remembrance Day is an excellent time to stress the role of education in eradicating anti-Semitism, and to reflect on how the Nazis systematically corrupted the education system in Germany and throughout the Third Reich.
Hitler and his henchmen took over the educational system to sow the seeds of hatred. Teachers were investigated to make sure they taught “proper” subjects; in fact 97 percent of all teachers joined the Nazi Teachers’ Association.
History was rewritten — sanitized, if you will. Biology was turned on its head to “prove” the existence of the Master Race and students were drilled in physical education to be the best, fastest and strongest. Under Nazi education, Jews and Marxist spies were responsible for Germany’s defeat in World War I; racial instruction and blood purity were taught in biology classes and young Nazi girls were taught about eugenics and how to find the perfect Nazi husband.
The most influential training ground was the Hitler Youth movement, which numbered 50,000 in 1933, and soared to 5.4 million members by 1936. At first, the youth were trained to become Storm Troopers, but later the focus was integrating them into society.
That is the power of education corrupted. Universities can be a place where the intellectual exchange of ideas takes place or they can be breeding grounds for racism. Today, this distortion of the educational environment is reflected to a lesser — though still dangerous — degree on some U.S. campuses.
The virulently anti-Israel Boycott, Divest, Sanctions (BDS) movement and its anti-Semitic overtones, and the Brandeis professor listserv, where some faculty members viciously attacked both Israel and what they called the “Jewish leadership” of the university, are examples of this trend.
This tendency is part of a disturbing atmosphere at some colleges — the substitution of a pre-defined narrative for fairness and open inquiry. This prevailing narrative on many college campuses has become both anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. It is disappointing that bias has become acceptable both on college campuses and among other groups.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is an ideal time to begin teaching our students — from grade school through college — the lessons of the Holocaust and what can happen when baseless hatred runs unchecked.
It is heartening to see that Making Light in Terezin, a documentary about life in that Czech Republic Ghetto during WW II, will be broadcast on more than 80 PBS stations this month, and that intergenerational workshops like Witness Theater connect survivors and young people to remind future generations of what happened during the Holocaust.
But perhaps our best chance to eradicate anti-Semitism is on our college campuses, where students come from all walks of life, from all colors, creeds and religions and from around the world to create diverse, yet relatively intimate communities.
Thoughtful administrators and talented educators can set an atmosphere that will challenge preconceived notions in a diverse environment where stereotypes can be challenged as students begin to see each other as real people, not depersonalized members of a different group.
There is no place on our campuses or in the larger world for anti-Semitism, racism or hatred of any kind. Remembering and living the lessons of the Holocaust is the most fitting memorial to the six million Jews and the millions of others murdered in Nazi concentration camps.
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Source: Huff Post