The Holocaust in Perspective Foreword to the Students
A MESSAGE TO THE STUDENTS
You are about to embark on the study of a period of recent history, called the Holocaust. The greatest part of the Holocaust occurred in the midst of World War II, but it was not a true part of the war effort itself. A war opposes two enemy armies, the Holocaust was an attack by a powerful nation against defenseless civilians, simply because these civilians belonged to a particular ethnic population.
Two factors played a major role in allowing the Holocaust to happen. First and foremost was the culmination of centuries of old prejudices, resurrected and magnified by Hitler and his followers. The second factor included modern bureaucracy and the advanced industrial technology needed to carry out genocidal mass murder in the most effective way.
Because of who they were, six million human beings were killed by a variety of means. Old and young; mothers and fathers; grandmothers and grandfathers; uncles and aunts; nieces, nephews and cousins; children like yourself were shot; gassed, burned, sometimes alive, or starved to death. They had done nothing to deserve that fate; They did not belong to one or the other side of the armed conflict, they were not in the path of warring forces. Their only crime was that they happened to have been born into a certain family. That, by itself, became an automatic death sentence.
In this manner, six million died. Close to one and a half million were children. Entire families, entire villages were wiped out. Why did this happen? How could it have happened in civilized Europe? Why did no one put a stop to it until it was nearly too late? This is what we are going to explore when we study the Holocaust.
It may seem to you that this happened a long time ago, but in reality, it did not. In fact you or your parents may know of some people still alive today who were caught up in the events of that terrible period. You may have grandparents who participated in the US war effort or may have liberated some of the camps.
Because it happened not so long ago, it has become very important to study this recent period of history, to discover why it happened and the events that helped create conditions which brought about these unimaginable consequences, so that we may prevent such horrors from ever happening again.
From the Holocaust we can learn not only the terrible things human beings can do to one another, but also the levels of heroism to which we can rise. We will see and begin to understand how things can begin small, and incrementally grow to inhuman proportions, if allowed to do so by the silence of others. We will learn to discern between statements and the motivations that lie behind the words. We will discover how to question and become aware of the importance of thinking for oneself and not to follow any leader blindly, charismatic though s/he may be.
In this manner we will begin to realize that the Holocaust is not just a study of the past but an important path towards your own future, a future in which none among us will be singled out to become a victim or a persecutor.
You may find this course different from most of your other studies in several ways. Its main concern and goal lies not in tests or grades. Its aim is much loftier: To arouse your interest and your level of awareness, to entice you to do research on your own and to motivate you to become a partner in a better future. To complement the statements of the text, we have added a reading section in the back of the book, under the title of “Complementary reading.” There you will find more details regarding specific events, personal survivor testimony and something extra, not in any other school textbook. You will find some of my true personal stories of the time.
Because the most important part of Holocaust history is awareness and understanding, you will be encouraged to participate in discussion groups, to analyze your own feelings and attitudes, to find out how it is possible to change under pressure from others and why its is important to be able to think independently. It is as if we are going to unravel some horrible mystery novel. Yet this was no novel, no mystery, and the horror was real. It is a tale without a happy ending, just a warning for the future. I would like to conclude with a quote from an anonymous source:
“As the Holocaust emphatically reminds us that ours is an imperfect world…, so too it provides an imperative for efforts to create a better world and to insure a future that is brighter than the past. In remembrance of the Holocaust lies apart of modern man’s salvation. “
With my best wishes for your future.
From a child of that time
To the Youth of today
For a better tomorrow.
Edith Rechter Levy, Ed. D.