When the Ohrdruf concentration camp was liberated in 1944, Dwight D. Eisenhower insisted on visiting the camp in person. This visit was important, as he later wrote, because it would put him "in a position to give firsthand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations to propaganda."
Today marks the 75th anniversary of Ohrdruf's liberation. Less than eight decades after the events of the Holocaust took place, Americans are failing at the somber responsibility with which Elie Wiesel charged humanity: "For the dead and the living, we must bear witness."
Last year, Schoen Consulting released the results of its nationally representative survey on Holocaust knowledge and awareness. The study revealed shocking levels of ignorance about the Holocaust: 11 percent of surveyed adults did not know or were not sure if they knew what the Holocaust was, 41 percent did not know what Auschwitz was, and 51 percent did not know how many Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
Currently, only 10 states require some form of Holocaust education. State and federal accountability schemes and standardized testing requirements leave little time for untested topics to be covered. Part of the challenge is that it is unclear what benefit, if any, studying the Holocaust offers students, though scholars and curriculum experts have theorized that studying periods of human history in which civic values were tested might lead to the fortification of those values.
Organizations like the Arkansas Holocaust Education Committee, founded by Grace Donoho in 1994, work to address the problem of declining awareness of the Holocaust by providing Holocaust education programming, including their best-attended event, the annual Arkansas Holocaust Education Conference, which draws 300 to 400 students and educators from Northwest Arkansas each year. The 27th annual conference was held this past November at the Jones Center in Springdale, and featured Holocaust survivor Pieter Kohnstam as the keynote speaker.
We partnered with the Arkansas Holocaust Education Committee and two local schools in order to learn what students gain from studying the Holocaust. By randomly selecting student volunteers to attend the conference, we were able to study the effect the conference had on students.
We found that students who attended the conference became more knowledgeable about the Holocaust and grew in their civic values, expressing a greater willingness to intervene on behalf of others. The experience was particularly efficacious for the minority students in our sample.
Researchers from the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville are always looking for opportunities to partner with education leaders and schools in the community. To read more about their research, visit edre.uark.edu. Our research will be released as a working paper in April by Charassein, the Character Assessment Initiative, directed by Gema Zamarro. For more projects associated with Charassein, visit wordpressua.uark.edu/charassein.
Matthew Lee and Molly Beck, both former teachers, are graduate students in education policy at the University of Arkansas.
Editorial on 04/04/2019