Friday, October 25, 2013

The Holocaust Is In Jeopardy

1. Jeopardy: The risk of loss, harm, destruction
2. Jeopardy: A nighttime game show

Last night on the game show, when it came time for writing the final question to determine the winner, the answer given was: “Which individual was honored by the Swedish, Hungarian, and Israeli governments for his humanitarian work during World War II?”

The three contestants were all in their early forties, and the woman in the middle with the least amount of winnings to bet, incorrectly answered, “Wesel (sic).” The man next to her had written “Eisenower (sic),” and he was also wrong. The final contestant, a man by the name of Rosenthal who had the largest accumulation of money, wrote “disrali (sic).”  Disraeli had twice served as Prime Minister of Great Britain; however, he died in 1881, some sixty years before the United States entered the war.

I kept shouting at the screen after each blatantly incorrect answer, “Raul Wallenberg, you idiot,” but using more colorful language.

 For more than ten years, I taught a course at San Jose State University on how the American media covered the Holocaust and the Japanese-American internment during World War II. While many students had been somewhat exposed to the history of the Holocaust in high school, their knowledge was vague about specifics. It was even more so with the internment.

Their overall knowledge of history was lacking, and I would remind them of George Santayana’s profound saying, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This appeared in his Life of Reason, published in 1905.

The three contestants’ responses were frightening, not because of their poor spelling, but because of their ignorance of one of the most horrific actions that occurred during the war.

Perhaps that’s why many Americans today are either unaware, or don’t care about the atrocities and gross inequities taking place today around the world, and in our own backyard.

With Holocaust survivors and former Japanese-American internees now in their eighties and beyond, and fewer of them around every day, some of those who can speak, do speak to students, civic groups, and anyone else who cares to listen.

When these voices are stilled, it’s up to the rest of us to do what we can to help ensure that the past is remembered, so the world doesn’t have to relive it again.

Here’s a link to one survivor’s story; Edith Tarjan. Cousin Edith in Australia may be upset because I am revealing that she will be celebrating her ninety-ninth birthday on November 20. I hope that she forgives me when I speak to her on that date.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this. When I was still teaching, I would often use literary texts on the Holocaust. I was astonished to see how little students knew about the Holocaust and World War II. It was like they got their whole sense of the period from reading Anne Frank and watching Life is Beautiful.