By Timothy Head
February 16, 2023
(Views expressed by guest commentators may not reflect the views of OAN or its affiliates.)
An alarming number of younger Americans don’t know the facts of the Holocaust, much less understand its full cultural and historical significance.
Nearly two-thirds of Millennials and Gen Z Americans didn’t know that 6 million Jewish people were killed, and over half of that subgroup put the death toll at less than 2 million. This isn’t just concerning from an educational perspective. It’s an important moral and political reality.
Sound education is an irreplaceable part of our experiment in self-government. Failures in education will undermine American politics in short order. If we forget or neglect to teach about history’s great evils, we risk succumbing unknowingly to the same temptations and follies that drove those atrocities. We must remain vigilant if we are to remain free.
Thomas Jefferson knew this. He was radically committed to the project of education in America, repeatedly stressing its significance for a free people. “I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowlege among the people,” Jefferson wrote of the emerging American legal code in a letter to George Wythe. “No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom, and happiness.”
In another letter a few years later — this time to Littleton Tazewell — celebrating the establishment of a university and outlining his own thoughts on its design, he wrote that he was “convinced that the people are the only safe depositories of their own liberty, [and] that they are not safe unless enlightened to a certain degree[.]”
“I have looked on our present state of liberty as a short-lived possession, unless the mass of the people could be informed to a certain degree,” he continued. A short-lived possession indeed. And we now face evidence of all sorts that our educational system is failing to inform the citizens it prepares for such liberty.
There is also the separate issue of doing justice, as Christians, to the history and safety of Jewish men and women. The story of Christianity begins with the tribes of Israel, and our alliance with them persists in a modern form to this day. Careful attention to all aspects of our Judeo-Christian heritage — including the grave and historically unprecedented suffering of past Jewish men and women — is critical.
If we grow insensitive to or ignorant of the history of the Jewish people and of Israel, we lose part of our own identity and risk estranging ourselves from one of our most important allies.
It isn’t enough to avoid indulging or cultivating anti-Semitism. We must know the history of the Jewish people, honor it, and protect them. And failure to do so — or failure, as in this case, to correct lapses in ongoing efforts at Holocaust education — is a failure to uphold a responsibility both to our faith and to our freedoms.
American Christians have a duty to learn well from history and to steward the hard-won moral lessons it holds for us. Our ongoing liberty depends upon it, and our faith demands it.
Timothy Head is the executive director of the Faith & Freedom Coalition.