Facing the Holocaust
Published: 1995-03-03

It may or may not be a conspiracy, but it feels like much more than pure coincidence. On Jan. 17, there appeared in the Boston Globe an Op-Ed piece by Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist, attacking the most-praised Holocaust curriculum in the nation, "Facing History and Ourselves." The piece came as a shock to many of its readers. Until now, FHAO had been relatively immune from criticism, save for the weird assault by Christina Jeffrey. (She's the one whom Newt Gingrich appointed as House historian and then, upon learning — or being reminded? — that she had criticized "Facing History" for not providing students with the Nazi and Ku Klux Klan points of view, dismissed.)

Mr. Jacoby falsely claimed that "Facing History" equated the Holocaust and My Lai. He falsely claimed that FHAO's central pedagogic tool, its "Resource Book on the Holocaust and Human Behavior," "has nothing to say about modern anti-Semitism." And he charged that Louis Farrakhan is therein "described, astonishingly, with sympathy and admiration."

I have read and reread the 11-line paragraph on page 507 that are the "Resource Book's" sole reference to Mr. Farrakhan. While I would have preferred stronger dismissive language than the paragraph includes, I cannot stretch my imagination far enough to read into its words either "sympathy" or "admiration" for Mr. Farrakhan. Indeed, the thrust of the paragraph is not about Mr. Farrakhan at all but about why his "message has been so warmly received even though parts of it stereotype and demean other groups."

Well, small matter; one day, one newspaper, one columnist, no big deal. But now the story becomes more complex and sinister. It now appears that the assault on "Facing History" is not simply one columnist's misfire. It is, or appears to be, instead, part of an elaborately orchestrated campaign. Here is what Sandra Stotsky wrote in a letter to the editor of this newspaper on Feb. 24: "In what must be regarded as one of the most incredible passages in its 1994 teacher manual, Louis Farrakhan is deliberately singled out for sympathy and praise...."

Given the close parallel between Mr. Jacoby's language and Ms. Stotsky's ("astonishingly"/"incredible," "sympathy and admiration"/"sympathy and praise"), one might simply suppose that Ms. Stotsky adopted Mr. Jacoby's formulation in composing her letter. But the sequence is reversed, since Ms. Stotsky, a zealous opponent of anything that smacks of multicultural education, is on a virtual crusade to destroy "Facing History." She is the author of a mendacious diatribe in which she accuses "Facing History" (among other things) of a hidden agenda — specifically, of seeking to depict America as "Amerika," close kin to Nazi Germany. And it is on that document that Mr. Jacoby relied in writing his article on the program. (Ms. Stotsky's letter in the Forward, as also her letters in diverse other newspapers around the country — she seems truly obsessed with "Facing History" — are all much calmer than her seven-page screed.)

And now, just in the last few days, another letter in the Forward, two more in Boston's Jewish Advocate and who knows how many more in other papers, by people united by their conviction that the Holocaust should not be "used" to teach lessons about contemporary life. As one writer puts it, the "Facing History" curriculum errs in exploring "issues far removed from the murder of six million European Jews by the Nazis." Each writer picks up a different element of the Stotsky master document; given how far-fetched the elements of that document are, it is not likely the letters have been independently prepared.

We are, of course, familiar with Holocaust deniers, and expect that they will oppose the inclusion of the Holocaust in public school curricula. But here we have a man-bites-dog story, for we have Jews who want the Holocaust taught but who object to the most widely disseminated and accepted vehicle for teaching it. ("Facing History" is used by some 500,000 students and 6,000 teachers.)

What gives?

What gives is not only opposition to multicultural education. The underlying themes, sometimes explicit, sometimes implicit, include as well a desire to "use" the Holocaust to buy for Israel immunity from criticism; the belief that the Holocaust's uniqueness is vitiated if students are urged to search for common threads that tie the Holocaust to contemporary events; a rejection, specifically, of any relationship between anti-Semitism in Weimar and Nazi Germany and racism in the United States.

Now, it should be obvious that if school systems were offered a Holocaust curriculum that omitted any universalization, that were restricted in its references outside the Holocaust itself to the history of anti-Semitism both before and since the Holocaust and to Israel's status as a consolation to the survivors, that curriculum would not be adopted. The reason that so many school systems now choose to teach the Holocaust is precisely within the context of their concern for "moral education" — that is, as a cautionary lesson for our own time, a lesson on indifference, on blind obedience, on the terrible danger of bigotry.

That is the lesson to which the opponents of "Facing History" object. The Holocaust, in their view, happened to us; it should therefore not be appropriated to cast light on other people's problems. "Facing History" stands condemned of asserting both the particularity of the Holocaust and the universality of its lessons.

These criticisms are dangerous. Many people, seeing all the smoke, will conclude there must be a fire. Those of us who care for both the particular and the universal should reassure beleaguered school boards and staff that in the case at hand, there's only a nasty smoke machine.


Copyright © 1995, Forward.

Copyright © 1995, SoftLine Information Inc., all right reserved.

Title: Facing the Holocaust
Summary: It may or may not be a conspiracy, but it feels like much more than pure coincidence. On Jan. 17, there appeared in the Boston Globe an Op-Ed piece by Jeff Jacoby, a conservative columnist, attacking the most-praised Holocaust curriculum in the nation, "Facing History and Ourselves." The piece came as a shock to many of its readers. Until now, FHAO had been relatively immune from criticism, save for the weird assault by Christina Jeffrey. (She's the one whom Newt Gingrich appointed as House historian and then, upon learning — or being reminded? — that she had criticized "Facing History" for not providing students with the Nazi and Ku Klux Klan points of view, dismissed.)
Source: Forward; Ethnic News Watch
Date: 03-MAR-1995
Regular Price: $3.00
Subscriber's Price: $3.00
Document Size: Short (up to 2 pages)
Document ID: GG19970827130061963
Subject(s): CRIMES/CRIME (HOLOCAUST); HUMAN RELATIONS (PREJUDICE)
Citation Information: p. 7
Author(s): Fein, Leonard
Document Type: Editorial & Commentary

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Author(s): Leonard Fein
Title: Facing the Holocaust
Sources: Forward, Mar 3, 1995, p. 7
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Published: 1995-03-03
First posted on CODOH: June 29, 1996, 7 p.m.
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