Mayor Ganim Calls For Teaching Holocaust and Genocide Studies To High School Students

This article originally appeared in the New Haven Independent.

 

(Opinion) In August of 1939, just a week before launching an all-out invasion of Poland, Adolf Hitler reiterated his orders to Nazi military commanders to “send to the death mercilessly and without compassion men, women, and children of Polish derivation and language.”  It would be the start of the most brutal slaughter of innocent civilians the world had ever seen.

In weighing the pros and cons of starting World War II, Hitler predicted that although western societies such as France and Britain might loudly protest the conquest of a peaceful neighbor, ultimately no one would rise up to stop him.  He argued history would reward him as a great leader; and that the murder of millions of men, women and children –-  Jews, Poles, Gypsies, Gays and Lesbians, and the disabled — would serve as a mere footnote to the rightful domination of civilization by the master Aryan race.

His rationale:  The world seemed to have forgotten the Turkish slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians during World War I just 20 years earlier.  “After all,” Hitler said in his concluding remarks, “who now speaks today of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

Hitler’s chilling political calculation should serve as a reminder to all of us that those who forget history are destined to repeat it.

That is why I believe it is time to require all Connecticut public school students to learn about the Holocaust and other genocides that have taken place in recent history.  A bill in front of the Connecticut General Assembly –-  Senate Bill No. 452 —  would make Holocaust and genocide studies a requirement of high school graduation.  I urge our Senators and State Representatives to pass this bill now before the legislative session adjourns in early May.

A recent survey showed some troubling numbers: more than 1 in 10 American adults and nearly a quarter of the millennial generation in this country either have not heard of the Holocaust or are not sure they’ve heard of it.

In a way, none of this should be a surprise.  After all, there are fewer and fewer people in this country still alive who witnessed the horrific genocide during World War II and can tell their stories. But ironically, in Connecticut you don’t need to go very far to find other victims of more recent genocides living as our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family.

In the Waterbury and Hartford areas, thousands of Albanian and Bosnian families settled after fleeing ethnic cleansing, rape, murder in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina during the 1990s simply because of their Muslim heritage.  More than 5,000 Cambodian families came to Connecticut as boat people in the early 1980s fleeing the genocide of the Khmer Rouge during the murderous reign of Pol Pot.

In more recent times, Connecticut has welcomed Sudanese genocide survivors from Darfur, as well as survivors of the brutal genocide in Rwanda.  In Bridgeport last year, I welcomed a refugee family from Syria who fled the brutal suppression of a popular uprising by the totalitarian monster Bashar al Assad,  who has used chemical weapons to gas his own citizens.

When we look at our own American history, one cannot help living in New England without observing evidence of the decimation of our native American population at the hands of white European settlers, or the brutal slave trade that brought millions of unwilling Africans across the oceans to toil in bondage.

In the last couple of years we have seen an alarming rise in hate crimes all across the country.  Some would argue that those are encouraged by a President who pledges to ban Muslim immigrants, prefers newcomers from Norway over those from Haiti and Africa who he says come from “shithole” countries, draws moral equivalence between neo-Nazi fascists and those who protested for peace and tolerance in Charlottesville, VA and refuses to classify as a terrorist a man who used his car to deliberately drive into a crowd of peaceful protesters, killing a young woman.

Public school students need to learn about the extreme, real-world results that can come from simple hate speech they might engage in every day.  And they need to be empowered to stop it right away.  For if we don’t combat hate and racism as soon as we see or hear it, we give it power.  Hate feeds off of the silence of onlookers.

Connecticut students need to know by the time they graduate high school that Nazi party that would eventually launch the Holocaust and the brutal genocide of 11,000,000 innocent people started with a meeting of just 23 angry, economically disadvantaged men in a beer hall in Munich, Germany.

Our legislature should require our future leaders to learn about this so we can truly commit to the saying: Never Again.

Paul Bass Photo

PAUL BASS PHOTO

Joe Ganim.

Joe Ganim is mayor of Bridgeport and a Democratic candidate for governor of Connecticut.

This article originally appeared in the New Haven Independent.