Jewish history is fading from the memories of more than American adults, and it is hardly taught at the Haverford School.
We have forgotten. We don’t offer a course on the Holocaust, and both our students and our reputation suffer because of it.
“41 percent of American adults did not know what Auschwitz was,” a 2018 New York Times survey concluded. Adding to this oblivion, Haverford is preparing boys to repeat the worst of history.
The history department offers a broad scope of topics our first three years: ancient, modern, and American. Many Sixth Form students engage beyond requirements and load their Sixth Form schedule with electives. But this unoffered elective is problematic to both Jewish students and historians.
On one hand, the history department meets its own course catalog philosophy, closely investigating topics that typical courses may pass over; “Modern Black Lives” and “European Dictators” are viable examples, but there’s one glaring void, forgetting to account for the six million deaths in Nazi Germany.
We are in a position to respect the pleas of Auschwitz survivors.
I have no memory of the Holocaust being taught in “Modern World History,” although teacher Mr. Brendan Jobs says he mentions it every year. Canvas allowed me to revisit lesson plans and readings from this class that covered the 20th century. My “command F” search on the Canvas page yielded zero matches to “Holocaust,” “Judaism,” or “Hitler.” Instead, I spent the last month of the year writing a decolonization story of the Bahamas.
Students in “European Dictators” attended under forty classes in the second quarter due to the Coronavirus schedule. They spent one-third of the time on Adolf Hitler. Studying Hitler, they were assigned just two Holocaust readings spanning three classes, according to Sixth Former Thomas Hall.
We are in a position to respect the pleas of Auschwitz survivors. Other independent schools such as Baldwin and Germantown Friends offer “Holocaust” as an advanced topic or explorative course. We should too.
Two arguments—more like rationalizations—why we do not offer it: assumptions that curriculum adjustments are difficult to facilitate and that there is little desire from Jewish students.
It is not too difficult. Last year, there were seven history electives; this year, nine. The History Department prioritized the new “History of Science, Sex, and Culture” and “History of Global Health” over a Holocaust course.
The English department has made progressive adjustments of their own. Spurred by student advocacy, they incorporated George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, recounting Asian suffering in World War II concentration camps. I suggest the history department makes a similar change.
Jewish students will choose this class; we want to learn about our own culture from a historical perspective. Mr. Brendan Jobs leads the class “Modern Black Lives,” exploring the realities faced and movements led. Black students currently represent eight of the ten class members, just as Jewish students would sign up to learn about their own history.
Our communal priorities leave out my Jewish peers whose great grandparents’ stories deserve to be told. Auschwitz survivors plead to the new generation to study and learn from their suffering, and each year, there are fewer survivors. We must learn—the history department must provide the opportunity to learn—their stories before it’s too late.