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How Far Must Hate Go to Approach The Holocaust?

This Opinion article by Renée A. Middleton, a past AACTE president and dean of the Gladys W. and David H. Patton College of Education at Ohio University, originally appeared in the Columbus Dispatch and is reprinted with permission.

Renée A. Middleton

Hate crimes are on the rise in the United States. According to the Anti-Defamation League, the United States last year saw the third-highest number of anti-Semitic incidents since 1979. There were 1,879 reported anti-Semitic acts—a 48% increase from 2016 and a 99% increase from 2015. Ohio, meanwhile, ranked third in the nation in hate crimes in general in 2016, according to the FBI. Columbus has more than doubled the number of reported hate crimes in Cincinnati and Cleveland combined.

These troubling numbers come against the backdrop of a humanitarian crisis at the southern border. Refugees are being separated from their families, detained against their will and are not being treated with dignity and respect. The majority of these refugees are children, who are powerless in every sense of the word.

In June, The Dispatch ran a poignant commemoration of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. This series was particularly meaningful following my April trip to Poland for a study tour of the Jewish Holocaust. This experience—seeing firsthand where the horrors occurred—showed me just how far hate can go if left unchecked.

It reinforced the meaning of the Jewish rallying cry “never again,” and my letter to the editor “D-Day good reminder of our American duty” in the June 10 Dispatch opined that we should reflect on D-Day as a lesson about safeguarding our democracy and our values as a pluralistic society.

The Holocaust provides a unique example for us to learn from our past. When Jews said, “never again,” they did not mean for only people of Jewish faith; they meant never again for all humans. In the early 1940s, the United States knew what was happening. America should have acted sooner, but we did act. Our soldiers fought—and died—on the shores of Normandy to save our democracy.

Now, however, hatred and human-rights violations are happening on our own soil, and I fear that we, as Americans, are once again waiting too long to act.

Teachers and educators are well aware of child development and the psychological impact of parental separation. We have seen firsthand how the history of trauma negatively impacts students’ socioemotional, behavioral, and academic learning. Of course, one need not be a teacher to know that treating people, especially children, in the manner they are being treated in the detainment centers is harmful. The physical and psychological impact, according to numerous research studies—and perhaps more markedly, according to Holocaust survivors—could last a lifetime.

While these detainment centers are not “death camps,” are they performing the same role and purpose of the Jewish concentration camps?

Who we are as a people determines who we are as a nation. And so, I ask: Is this who we want to be? Years from now, what will we be teaching our young learners about this part of our nation’s history? Will they judge us as honorably as those who fought for our democracy and the soul of our nation on D-Day?

Whether a student, teacher, educator or citizen, we must ensure we don’t make the mistakes of our past. Reflect. Care. Act. Stand up for what’s right. It might not be easy, but as our soldiers knew on D-Day, it is worthwhile.

I issue this challenge both as an educator and a concerned citizen. All of us, especially those who work with children, should reflect on our moral responsibilities in this moment. #NeverAgain #NeverAgainIsToday

To learn more about how to engage in the work of supporting children and families of Dreamers and those being detained, go to the American Federation of Teachers’ site at go.aft.org/BorderCrisis, ed.gov/unaccompaniedchildren, NEAedjustice.org and LilysBlackboard.org.

In the words of Elie Wiesel, “We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant.”e

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Renée A. Middleton

Ohio University