Why Remembering Is Important

Synagogue in Berlin which was destroyed during the Crystal Night.

Our family took a vacation to Europe early this summer. Part of our travels brought us to Germany, where we spent time visiting with old friends and seeing the beautiful countryside. However, in spite of all of the beauty and history, we were constantly reminded of the history of antisemitism and the programs put in place nearly 100 years ago in order to systematically clear the land of anyone whom the National Socialist Party deemed of as “other”.

One thing which stood out to me while sightseeing, especially in Berlin, was how unapologetic they are. The government has tried to ensure that the horrible history of Hitler and the Nazi party is never forgotten. Right in the middle of the city, next to the Brandenburg Gate is a giant sculpture park designed to draw attention to the more than six million people murdered by Hitler and his party. As we walked through the city, we saw plaques and signs, fountains and flowers, and even just buildings, scarred with bullet holes accompanied by solemn words about atrocities which occurred by Germans against other Germans.

Every time we came across something memorializing their horrendous past, I thought of our own history in America. I thought about all the work NAFC has done to bring light to racism and inequity in our schools and town. I also recalled the pushback from those in our community who believe that to learn history with a broader lens will make our white children “feel bad” and start to hate our country. I thought of those people in our town who have aligned themselves with the hate group Moms for Liberty, believing that they are on the right side of history as these groups work hard to erase our complicated past of hatred and evil. All of this in the name of “for the children”, much like Hitler and his followers were “for the betterment of Germany”.

Germans are a proud people.

Those Germans who pay attention and remember their sordid history are not proud of it, but they do not shy away from it. They continue to try to use what happened as lessons of how bad things get when the past is ignored. They continue to stand proudly when they speak of their country and where it is headed.

However, it has been 80 years since the fall of the Nazi party. Even with all the memorials and concentration camps standing; pictures and letters and documents telling every detail of the medical experiments, death by labor, and mass murders, there are people who deny that it happened.

In the Anne Frank Museum we watched interviews and read articles about what happened to the Franks and their journey to Amsterdam beginning when they lived in Germany. We learned all about how hard Otto Frank pushed to have Anne’s diary published in as many different languages as possible. He did not want people to forget what happened across Europe and how his entire immediate family was murdered because they were Jewish.

We also learned that during plays and presentations about Anne’s life, Right Wing groups in Germany pass out pamphlets telling people that none of this happened. They deny that the Holocaust took place and try hard to convince people that it is an event fabricated by the Jewish community or other radical political groups to make Germany look bad and push a liberal agenda.

This should sound familiar and should frighten you as well. Statistically, across Europe and in America, more and more people are unfamiliar with the history of the Holocaust. Millennials are unable to name any of the concentration camps or ghettos where the atrocities took place. They also do not believe that the number of casualties were as high as they were, citing deaths at around 2 million instead of six million, believing that the large numbers of victims were greatly exaggerated in order to draw sympathy.

When we fail to teach the history of atrocities like these, (as well as our own country’s complicated and horrific past), we fail future generations. Failure to teach accurate history, to leave out the horrific and focus only on the glorious, leads people to believe that awful events such as slavery and the Holocaust did not happen nor will never happen again.

When we allow those who care more about the feelings of white children than the facts of our history to write public policy and give input into public school curriculum, we show that we do not believe our children can have empathy. We demonstrate that we do not trust our children to be able to learn and grow from our history. We also teach them that the best way to handle information is to deny that it happened.

When we do not remember history, we are bound to repeat it.

Always remember, never forget.