The Holocaust Memorial Center Zekelman Family Campus (HMC) in Michigan, visited annually by thousands of middle school and high school students, has for a long time attempted to instill socially responsible behavior among younger generations. The presentations by its docents and survivors invariably point out that the horror of the Holocaust and other genocides teach a hard-won lesson: We must learn to fully accept people of other backgrounds, and we must fight discrimination and violence directed at those we feel are different to us.
In the 1930s and 1940s, the gradual exclusion of Jewish school children in Germany and Austria from regular activities, their subsequent isolation from non-Jewish fellow students and the ultimate violence directed at them have provided our speakers with examples of what can happen as a result of discrimination.
Eight decades later, most of us are saddened by the almost daily reports of bullying – and cyber-bullying – on the campuses of secondary schools and colleges in the Unites States, in some cases leading to physical harm and even the suicide of the victims.
Why don’t some of our young – and not so young – accept that the world as a whole has sufficient room for all types of people to co-exist? Why is there a breakdown of the respect we each should hold for other people’s differences? Bullying seems to be a result of that breakdown. Perhaps worthy values like respect, tolerance and accountability aren’t being taught at home adequately. At the same time, societal pressures are overriding bystanders’ better nature. A case in point: the local 14-year old girl who committed suicide after being bullied and teased by other students for alleging that an older student had raped her. Additionally, with the advent of the Internet, cyber-bullying has, unfortunately, become a new pastime for certain members of society intent on inflicting a different and very damaging form of harm. We learned about several recent incidents because of their tragic outcomes.
These types of social malaise cannot be allowed to go unchecked.
As part of its ongoing mission, the HMC attempts to be a constant counterforce against such evil practices. Recently the HMC has widened and intensified its outreach and education.
It joins the efforts of our government that, according to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is heavily focused on creating an anti-bullying program. As reported by TIME Magazine, “The education system has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in anti-bullying campaigns in the past decade. At least 42 states have passed laws against bullying…”
In response to this urgent need, HMC has formed a task force. In collaboration with its staff members, the task force will make the resources of the center available to all teachers and administrators in search of ways to combat through education the spreading disregard for the rights of others.
The Holocaust Memorial Center will even more strongly link presentations on the Holocaust to the teaching of respect for others, of all walks of life and of every ethnic and religious background within our local community and beyond. Lessons from history clearly demonstrate that man has the potential for both good and evil. Let us strive to bring out the good in all.