USC panel discusses bridging the gap between generational Holocaust remembrance

Experts say younger generations need innovative methods of Holocaust remembrance to keep the history alive in Jewish life and culture.

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The future of Holocaust remembrance will require innovative connections with younger generations, experts said at a USC panel on Wednesday.

“The Holocaust to me is a watershed event in human history,” said Ellen Germain, U.S. State Department Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, to Annenberg Media. “It’s something that should speak to younger generations emotionally and not just historically. And we have to find ways to continue doing that.”

The USC Shoah Foundation hosted a panel about the protection of Holocaust memory during a time of rising antisemitism. The foundation’s headquarters, located at USC’s Leavey Library, saw a packed house and over 600 registrants for the online livestream.

The event was co-sponsored by USC’s Center for the Political Future and moderated by journalist Tami Abdollah. The Shoah Foundation was founded 30 years ago by Steven Spielberg and has collected over 50,000 audio-video testimonies from Holocaust survivors.

Robert Williams, Finci-Viterbi executive director of the USC Shoah Foundation, said teaching students about the Holocaust in school curriculum isn’t enough. He said the key is teaching the Holocaust as part of a continuum of Jewish life and culture.

“The [Holocaust] Shoah was a terrible moment in Jewish history, but it was not the only moment in Jewish history,” Williams said. “You need touch points that can be in the university classroom, in museums or in films. But you need to be reminded,” he said during the panel.

Just over 20 states mandate Holocaust education, according to Germain. But, Williams said, a number of these states are teaching the history of Nazi Germany as a replacement for Holocaust education.

“If you’re only teaching the history of Nazi Germany, it doesn’t resonate with people,” Williams said to Annenberg Media.  “You have to make it live in new ways. The old tactics weren’t as effective as they once were.”

Eric Pickles, U.K. Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, said there is an emotional detachment to Holocaust remembrance in younger generations. “What we need to do is to ensure that we see these not as six million, but as individuals who could have had a chance,” he said to Annenberg Media.

The experts said social media platforms can house antisemitic rhetoric such as deep fake distortions and Holocaust denialism. Germain said teaching critical thinking online is important to assess true from false.

“If students don’t know how to think critically about what they’re seeing and assess the sources of information, particularly on the internet and social media, they’re just going to be overwhelmed with deep fakes and information,” she said.

Having conversations with young people and speaking with new audiences about why people care about Holocaust experiences can build a bridge between communities, Williams said.

“I would like to see younger people experiment with ways to present this history. Use our testimonies, find ways to package them so that their cohort becomes interested in the subject. An old guy like me isn’t going to figure out the right solution. But we need to activate people your age and younger,” he said.

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