I wrote this as a response to a workshop I went to on teaching about the Holocaust, and thought it would be good to share.

Our current students are living in a time of an assault on democracy all around the world. Democracy has not been in such danger since the 1930s. There are so many see parallels between our time and the time of the Holocaust. Some of the things that our students need to look at that the Holocaust can help them understand are the fragility of democracy, the use of scapegoating to increase domination, and the tendency of most people to be bystanders to oppression.

Just a few days go I was talking to my daughter who is an 18-year-old radical. She told me that she had read an article that argued that more progress on racial justice had taken place in the six months since the Black Lives Matter protest since the summer of 2020 than had happened in the 30 years prior. She pondered if maybe it was helpful that Trump had been elected to destabilize an oppressive system. I agreed with her that times of extreme destabilization can lead to big changes for the better, but they can also lead to fascism. She knows a good amount about the holocaust. She was named after a family member who was killed at the Terezin concentration camp. It didn’t take much reminding to explain to her that, just like in Weimar Germany, destabilization can lead society to move in a lot of different directions and that it wasn’t at all clear that we were immune from moving along the road to fascism.

Our current students need to know that liberal democracy is precious and fragile and needs to be fought for. They need to know that the alternatives can be much worse. They need to know that one of the more powerful tools of a dictator, and of anyone wanting to maintain a system of domination, is the scapegoating of marginalized groups. They need to now the concept of “the banality of evil,” that all it takes for terrible things to happen is for people to go along with an oppressive system because others perceive it to be normal. When college and university students are taught these lessons in school, we are much safer as a society.

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