A rose is placed on the Berlin Holocaust Memorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Maja Hitij-Getty Images)
A rose is placed on the Berlin Holocaust Memorial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Jan. 27, 2021. (Photo/JTA-Maja Hitij-Getty Images)

Age 16, never heard of the Holocaust? Our nation has a problem.

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

When I was a sophomore in high school, I remember overhearing a peer’s comment in history class as we were about to begin studying the Holocaust. This individual asked their friend what the event was, and it was clear that neither had been taught about the Holocaust before.

As a 15 year old, I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

I thought that the Holocaust was a subject first introduced in middle school and then later expanded upon in high school. It was hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that, in only a few years, these individuals would enter the world and work force as adults, yet before their sophomore year, had never been taught about an event as devastating as the Holocaust.

As the great-granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, I was taught about the event and my family history from a young age.

My great-grandmother was one of 14 siblings, and when Hitler rose to power, she was separated from her family and forced to “live” in the Lodz Ghetto. She was then sent to Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen. She was stripped of everything — a family, friends, material possessions and her humanity.

Of the 14 siblings, only five survived.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to meet my great-grandmother. She has left an imprint on my life and continues to inspire me every day.

As a junior in my AP English Language class, I had the opportunity to research a topic of interest and draft an argumentative essay. As I did so, I thought back to that day as a sophomore in my history class.

I started asking myself, family members and friends questions about the topic: Had they learned about the Holocaust in a high school history class? Had they been exposed to the topic before high school? If so, how? Was it through a teacher, family member, a book?

As I was collecting answers from those in my community, I was compelled to take my research a step further. I started looking into Holocaust education on a national level. I wanted to know whether the United States requires the Holocaust to be taught as a part of each state’s public high school history curriculum.

I was shocked by my research.

As of 2021, a mere 19 out of the 50 states require the Holocaust to be taught as a part of each state’s educational standards. That’s only 38 percent of states. This stunningly low percentage clearly reveals that countless Americans are uneducated about this recent historical event.

Without widespread Holocaust education, inaccurate claims spread rapidly and with ease. When people are unfamiliar with a topic and lack the knowledge needed to support factual claims, it becomes challenging to denounce invalid information.

I’ve grown up surrounded by social media and have seen and read countless antisemitic posts. Many teens and “emerging adults” primarily receive their news via social-media apps.

Often, when an individual selects a certain article, sites save user information, which continues to bombard the individual with that same point of view. This makes it so Holocaust denial and other misinformation can easily spread across online sites.

Ignorance breeds hatred. If individuals have little to no knowledge about the Holocaust, they are susceptible to believing what they read online.

Rising antisemitism furthers the need to teach American youth about the Holocaust. Failure to address the lack of national Holocaust education at its roots enables false information to continue to spread, heightening hostility and antisemitism.

Our nation is in need of educational reform. We need to require current and future generations of students to learn about the Holocaust. Perhaps we need to create a vetted curriculum, including free, online-accessible resources to serve as a national model for teachers.

In addition, as the number of survivors diminishes, we must continue to relay their stories to current and future generations of students. It is vital that survivor testimony is weaved into a national curriculum, as this provides students the opportunity to gain the most comprehensive and meaningful understanding of the event.

As human beings, we have a moral duty to use the power of education to inform our youth about the Holocaust.

By equipping current and future youth with this historical knowledge, students develop critical-thinking skills essential to recognizing and combating injustice in their everyday lives.

With knowledge and increased awareness, we have the tools to prevent an event like the Holocaust from occurring in the future.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of J.

Madeleine Rose
Madeleine Rose

Madeleine Rose is a rising senior at San Mateo High School and the teen lead on the board of the Northern Peninsula Yom Hashoah Committee. She lives in Foster City.