Importance of Holocaust Education Among Non-Jews

December 18, 2020

By Walid Tamtam

My name is Walid Tamtam and I am a Muslim Canadian activist tackling anti-Semitism wherever it comes from. I believe anti-Semitism may start with Jewish communities but does not end with them. It does not come from one direction alone and it is the oldest form of hate. If it can be tackled, then other forms of bigotry can be tackled as well. A key component to the education required to be an effective ally in combating anti-Semitism is Holocaust education – to understand the worst atrocity in human history and how hate against the Jewish population went unchecked by the entire world.

Once upon a time, when I was nine years old, I attended a protest march for Gaza. The protest marched towards a local Synagogue – something I believed to be right, liberal, and progressive for the next several years of my life following the march.

After the Holocaust and in our current era, progressive societies have dedicated themselves to the idea of “never again”, a pledge that the modern world would never allow an event like the Holocaust ever happen again. From learning more recently about the Jewish community’s perspective, I have realized this phrase means something slightly different – that they would never let it happen again.

The method of accomplishing this goal is to uncover the underlying form of hate that caused this persecution and to fight it with educated members of society. For me as a young student, this means instituting robust Holocaust education so that young students can further understand how to lead the next-generation free of hate for any group. This starts with the most hated group and the most ancient form of hate against them, the Jewish people and anti-Semitism.

Holocaust education and the movement to encourage it in public education systems across the globe requires a robust education package that gives the full context of the dark history that was the Holocaust. This education regiment must go beyond the causalities and famous figures and zoom into the micro-context and facts such as students bearing responsibility for the majority of destruction during Kristallnacht and that much of German society was complacent in the Nazi regime’s actions.

Students must be taught not only the fact that over 6 million Jews killed, but that it was done so with the underlying belief that it was justified across German society – that the majority of Germans came to believe that the Jewish population was the source of their problems and pain.

This context gives the student further insight into the patterns of anti-Semitic history and how the hijacking of a damaged population’s interest can be used to inspire hate and justify crimes against humanity. Our young populations, especially the non-Jewish ones, must also break away from the notion that anti-Semitism is outdated and understand that some of the same rhetoric from the Nazi’s ideology has outlasted the days of the regime in Germany.

Robust holocaust education means that curricula can zoom in on the behavior of societies and can create an understanding for how sinister desires to have simple answers for complex problems can be accomplished by scapegoating people. Often indifference, greed, abuse of power, and violence have arisen from this method throughout history with minority populations – but non-more than the Jewish peoples.

The Holocaust was fuel by the dangers of prejudice, dehumanization, and discrimination. Effective Holocaust education can also teach students to recognize how today, extremism, propaganda, abuse of political power, group targeted hate, and violence still affect societies around the world. The societal ills can be detected much better when a population is educated about these aspects of the Holocaust.

In America and around the world, anti-Semitism is clearly on the rise. Those who participate, incite, or are complicit with anti-Semitism are most-often those who have no interaction with the Jewish community. Holocaust education is essential to every community especially those who are the furthest away from Jewish communities.

When other communities are educated about the rise of anti-Semitism and how anti-Semitism works, namely by recycling age-old falsehoods about the Jewish people, and inspiring suffering populations to hate them as a result. One of the most popular contemporary forms of anti-Semitism is anti-Zionism. By furthering Holocaust education students may have the tools to understand the correlation between the multiples forms of anti-Semitism but most importantly be able to better understand how to criticize Israel without crossing the lines into anti-Semitism. I am very confident in writing that among the most anti-Zionist populations, exists the least amount of Holocaust education. This fuels the tone-deaf nature of anti-Zionist rhetoric and the misguided passion that seeks the destruction of the state of Israel.

When one looks at how anti-Semitism has prevailed throughout history, it becomes easier to detect the tone of hate that manifests in many new forms today. Through education, non-Jewish communities can understand classical and contemporary anti-Semitism. By studying the Holocaust they may be able to fully understand the gravity of hate against the Jewish community and that the Holocaust was not the first, only, or last event of anti-Semitism tragedy but rather the precipice of many episodes of anti-Semitism throughout history, continuing to plague societies all over the world.

Being able to effectively fight anti-Semitism can give any person the tools to fight and dismantle any other form of hate. As said by the late UK Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, “anti-Semitism may start with the Jewish people but does not end with them.” Attacks on Muslim communities and communities of color carry similar hallmarks of anti-Semitic attacks.

The Arab community in particular seems to be one of the communities with the least amount of tolerance towards  Jews including in France, the Middle East, and even in North America. This is caused by a blend of Arab media’s negative influence against the Jewish state, and a lack of education about the Jewish community – including the lack of Holocaust education.

A greater understanding of the history of Jewish people, especially in the Middle East can better humanize the Jewish people in the eyes of the Arab world and open the door to a more peaceful forward-thinking conclusion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. By understanding the world’s worst crime against humanity that largely decimated the Jewish population, people in any community may better understand and sympathize with the essential need of a Jewish state.

This process could not only break down barriers but create a coalition of peoples from all over the Middle East and North Africa, who face similar issues and have common cultures. Rather than continuing to divide that region and its descendants, unity is very much needed to heal a region scarred by wars, conflicts, and political division.

One of the brightest developments to this is end, is the Abraham Accords and the normalization deals between Israel and several Arab states. Following the accords, the Emirati delegation visited the Holocaust memorial in Berlin, Germany, where they pronounced “never again”. Two nations, two groups of peoples, two cultures set aside political differences, seeing the humanity in one another and being able to unite in the fight against hateful extremism.

Events like these continue to inspire me as a Muslim to be an ally of both my own community and the Jewish community. I look forward to a future all over the world, especially in the Middle East, where anti-Semitism is identified and combatted through the adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism and appropriate curricular within education systems to root out political ideologies that seek to target the Jewish community.

I hope that with robust implementation of Holocaust education, the fight against hate of all forms, starting with anti-Semitism, can be successful. The  tragedies of the past can guide us to the best possible future. I Walid Tamtam, hope within the next few years to see this happen especially in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Francephone countries, and elsewhere to keep the brewing hate against the Jewish community in check and on the run.

Walid Tamtam is a Muslim Canadian, born in Gatineau, Quebec and a new member of the CAM Contributor Network. He is dedicated to breaking through echo chambers with the purpose of ending polarization and bringing people together. 

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Category: Contributor Op-Eds