Smalewitz: Holocaust Awareness Week reminds us that we need to keep this part of the past alive

Tamra Smalewitz

February brings many things — Valentines Day, Presidents Day and Holocaust Awareness Week.

Before coming to college I had a lot of previous knowledge regarding the Holocaust, only because I am a Jew and my grandparents were Holocaust survivors. My parents taught me about what happened to the Jews in Germany, Poland and France from a young age, and I have been exposed to Yad Vashem in Israel and The Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. While growing up and going through school, I only learned about the Holocaust in middle school for one month in eighth grade and in high school for two weeks.

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Now being at Colorado State University, I wanted to take a course revolving around Jewish history or the Holocaust and found that only one class was offered, History 338: The Holocaust in Perspective, and you have to be a junior or senior to take it.

The events of the Holocaust should not be forgotten or removed from school curriculums like the Armenian Genocide.

Many individuals deny the fact that the Holocaust was an actual event or do not know much about it, and because of this, our school systems need to teach lessons revolving around the Holocaust and Judaism. The Holocaust is an important part of history because of how many individuals it affected and because antisemitism is on the rise again all over the world. The Anti-Defamation League posted this incident on their website:

“Nov. 11, 2014 — Buenos Aires: ‘Do good to the country, kill a Jew’ was found spray-painted in the Once neighborhood, an area that has a large population of Orthodox Jews.”

In high school, one of the kids in my class asked the teacher what a swastika was, and I was shocked to find out that not everybody knew the facts revolving around the Holocaust. One of the most interesting things I found out was that before the Nazis used the swastika as a symbol of hate, it had a completely different meaning for other religions. Ironically, the swastika was a symbol “to signify birth, marriage or any joyous occasion.”

Not many know that not only were Jews stripped of their rights, but so were gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s witnesses, socialists and communists. Society as a whole needs to be knowledgeable of the facts of the Holocaust, and it is necessary to educate students for more than just one week or even one month.

Today’s generations and the next generations need to know that Adolf Hitler blamed a religion for a country’s problems and he thought that, if he murdered them, everything would be solved. More and more people are blaming the Jews for today’s problems here in America. The website Stand With Us posted about musician Ted Nugent’s antisemitic slurs. “Nugent posted an antisemitic image blaming Israel and Jewish leaders for American gun control policies … claiming that they hate freedom and are evil. … Jews for gun control of being Nazis in disguise.” This quote from a recognized “star” is the reason the Holocaust needs to be taught in schools.

Everybody today is so concerned with “first-world problems,” but do you even know what is going on around the world that the media doesn’t tell you? The answer: probably not. Educate yourselves on the issues going on today and in the past.

Our society will become more antisemitic, or just anti-difference in general, and the important influence the past can have on the future will be lost. Tolerance for people of differing religions will become less and less if the events of the Holocaust are sparsely or no longer taught in schools.

This week is Holocaust Awareness Week at CSU, and there are many events going on around campus during the week. There will be a Field of Flags Memorial Friday, Feb. 26 at 2 p.m. on the LSC Plaza. The full list of events can be found online.

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If you only go to one event, though, you should go for free Wednesday, Feb. 24 from 7-9 p.m. at the LSC Theater to see 91-year-old Auschwitz survivor Albert Rosa and hear his story. We are the last generation to be able to hear from the mouth of a survivor, because there are not many left. Our children will only be able to hear these stories from us and not actual survivors, so do yourself a favor and go listen to Mr. Rosa.

I went to the speaker last year and it was one of the most moving nights of my life. When I hear Holocaust speakers, it not only makes the events of the Holocaust more of a reality to me, but the fact that actual human beings were affected and live to tell their story and we are alive to hear it is not something future generations will be able to say. Everybody has a different story. Some were luckier than others. My grandfather was in ghettos until the end of the Holocaust when he was placed into Auschwitz. While in Auschwitz, he found some women who were starving and decided to help them by stealing some food from the Nazis. The Nazis not only caught my grandfather, but beat him in one ear until he became deaf. This story was never told beyond family and friends because my grandfather passed away from cancer before I was born.

Time is running out to hear from the mouths of actual survivors and show them how much their stories affect you. If you don’t want to go for yourself, go for others. Tell others of the stories you hear from the survivors and try and imagine if you could have survived. If you were a survivor of the Holocaust, would you want the world to forget your story, your suffering, if you knew that keeping the stories alive could potentially keep something so awful from happening again? 

Collegian Columnist Tamra Smalewitz can be reached at hmcgill@collegian.com or on Twitter @tamrasmalewitz.