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Conference Explores Need to Teach About Genocide and the Holocaust

October 12, 1977
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“Morally deranged historians are trying to prove that the Holocaust never happened,” a survivor of the concentration camps charged in a poignant address to some 200 educators from the U.S. and abroad attending the three-day conference on teaching about genocide and the Holocaust.

Elie Wiesel, noted author and professor of humanities at Boston University, wondered why American soldiers who liberated the camps have not spoken up to refute those who claim “that the camps never existed, that six million were never killed, that the ovens were bakeries.”

Teachers, he declared, “must teach how society could lose its mind.” Understanding the Nazi years “is a matter of survival, not just for Jews, but for all people,” he declared. “No subject is more linked with injustice or has more lessons for today. Anyone who doesn’t engage actively today in keeping the truth of the Holocaust alive is an accomplice of the killers.”

Wiesel told the conference, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the National Council for Social Studies held at the Sheraton Hotel at La Guardia Airport, that “never has the teaching of any subject been more urgent….With so few survivors in our midst–and their number is decreasing daily–this is the last chance for our generation to study and communicate, to explore and analyze on event that will forever remain a challenge in history and perhaps to history.


At the opening session Sunday, Burton M. Joseph, ADL’s national chairman, said that the goal of the conference is to make study of the Holocaust an integral part of secondary school curricula in this country and abroad. The workshop sessions and addresses dealt with resource units available and methods of extracting and teaching the full meaning of genocide and the Holocaust.

Other speakers included Dr. Anna Ochoa, president-elect, National Council for Social Studies; Min W. Koblitz, New York director of the National Education Association; Benjamin R. Epstein; ADL’s national director, and Theodore Freedman, director of the agency’s program division.

Ms. Ochoa said that students must be made aware of the tragedy of the Holocaust and the capacity of human beings to be violent and destructive. “If they explore and take ethical positions on this issue,” she declared, “they will be more mindful of their moral obligations to all people everywhere whose destiny and lives are jeopardized.”

Ms. Koblitz, noting that the NEA is deeply committed to the elimination of racial and religious discrimination in all its forms, said that she and other NEA observers at the conference would bring back recommendations for “updating our vigilance.”

Epstein, who was an American student in Germany in the 1930s and saw what he called “the ugliest side of man’s nature dim the lights of liberty and civilization,” said “the lessons to be learned from the Nazi era are challenge to humanity.”

Freedman said that if young people are to become effective adults, “it must be through an understanding of human nature, including an honest, if sometimes painful, examination of motives and behavior as reflected in political and social events …the Holocaust is a compelling case–it reveals the human potential for extremes of both good and evil.”


According to Nat Kameny, chairman of ADL’s national program committee, an ADL study of 45 of the most widely used American junior high and high school textbooks on social studies and world history has revealed that nearly one-third make no reference to the Holocaust and only four texts give adequate treatment of the subject. He said studies of European textbooks show a strikingly similar picture.

The conference, which ends today, showcased special films, graphics, publications and resource units on the Holocaust which can be integrated into courses in history, literature, social studies, humanities and the arts.

Among the foreign educators attending were Dr. Siegfried Bachmann, managing director of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research in Brunswick, Federal Republic of Germany, who represented his government; Dr. Giuliamme Limite of the Italian Ministry of Education in Rome; Dr. Zbrigriew Bako, First Secretary of the Embassy of the Polish People’s Republic, Washington, D.C.; Sister Frederick Mary Rice of the Society of the Holy Child, Nigeria; and Dr. Arye Carmon, associate professor of education, Ben Gurion University, Beersheba, Israel.

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