"Never forget” is a phrase often uttered after horrific tragedies, but at the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, there’s a fear the world is forgetting after recent comments from a prominent White House staffer.
“You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons,” the White House press secretary said on Tuesday when he compared Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to Adolf Hitler, and apologized later: “I got into a topic I shouldn’t have, and I screwed up. I hope people understand we all make mistakes.”
Though Sean Spicer apologized soon after his eyebrow-raising remarks, some are wondering if the mistake is a sign of a larger societal symptom: Ignorance about the Holocaust.
“Best case scenario: Spicer has a tenuous grasp of history. And worst case: he’s sort of feeding into denial, which I think is a rising issue now. As time moves on and the survivors pass, we're getting further and further from the history,” Holocaust Center for Humanity executive director Dee Simon said.
The Center has a canister of Zyklon B from Auschwitz. Nazis used the cyanide-based pesticide to kill about one million people in extermination camp gas chambers, according to Simon.
Since the comments on Tuesday, museum goers are giving the canister some added attention.
“It was a highly poisonous insecticide used to kill over a million Jews and other victims,” Judyth Weaver, of Seattle, said, reading the exhibition card.
She brought her three grandchildren to see the Curious George exhibit at the museum.
“I think the younger generation is losing touch with a lot of things, the Holocaust being one of them,” Weaver said.
Her grandchild Celia, 10, says many of her friends do not know about the Holocaust: “but since I am half Jewish, then they learned about some of it. But some people just don't really care about it or don't want to learn more about it.”
More than 40 states, including Washington, do not legally require school districts teach students about the Holocaust, though some may recommend it.
“They get Hitler confused with Stalin -- it’s shocking,” Simon said of some high school and college students’ knowledge of the Holocaust.
Holocaust Remembrance Day is Monday, April 24. On Sunday, April 23, the Holocaust Center for Humanity is having two survivors talk about their experiences in an effort to keep their stories alive.
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Holocaust survivor and actress Eva Tannenbaum-Cummins performed her one-person play, “A Page from the Past… Or is it?” in December for students in Peter Suruda’s English classes at Juanita High School. During the annual visit, organized through a partnership with the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, Tannenbaum-Cummins recollects her childhood growing up in Hitler’s Berlin:
"All of a sudden we hear ‘Hitler's coming! Hitler's coming!’ And of course everybody had to give the Hitler salute, except Jews for whom it was forbidden. And so my mother said, ‘turn around.’ And we quickly turned around toward a jewelry shop and watched the reflection of Hitler passing by. A very scary moment.”
When she was in fifth grade, Tannenbaum-Cummins and other Jewish students were expelled from school. After witnessing Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass), she and her mother spent nearly a year trying to leave Germany for Seattle where a cousin lived. They arrived in 1939 when she was a teenager. Two weeks later, Germany invaded Poland and ignited World War II.
Students sat in silence during the performance, but were eager to ask questions afterward. Several students were interested in whether Tannenbaum-Cummins had been back to Berlin. She said she’s been back twice, but emphasized Seattle is her home. “Berlin is just a place I used to live.”
"The impact of [Elie Wiesel's] legacy continues in our Seattle community at the Holocaust Center for Humanity which upholds his dedication to promote and teach citizenship and tolerance through the lessons of the Holocaust."
Representative Adam Smith, Washington's Ninth District
After Holocaust Remembrance Day, I spent time reflecting on the invaluable role Jewish-Americans play in the 9th Congressional District and our society as a whole. Their unique experiences, including their persecution during the Holocaust, continue to teach us how important it is to remember history’s lessons so that we do not repeat our most egregious mistakes.
On January 27, 2017 we commemorated the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. This commemoration was a time for us to all to reflect on the dangers of hate and to reaffirm our commitment to fight for an inclusive and tolerant world.
On February 1, 2017, I ensured that my words also created concrete actions. I cosponsored H.Res. 78 which reiterated the indisputable fact that the Nazi regime targeted the Jewish people in its perpetration of the Holocaust. This piece of legislation calls on every entity of the executive branch to affirm this fact.
While the Holocaust destroyed millions of lives, it also created heroes that we should all look to for guidance. One such hero was Elie Wiesel. Recently, I had the privilege to honor Elie’s contributions to the Jewish-American community by submitting a letter of remembrance to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s tribute to Elie. His memory lives on through his countless books that depict his childhood experiences with the Holocaust. When he was just 15, his entire family was abducted and taken to the Auschwitz concentration camp; Elie was the only member of his family to survive. After liberation, Elie became an advocate for human and civil rights, from his support for Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians to his founding role of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 1993. The impact of his legacy continues in our Seattle community at the Holocaust Center for Humanity which upholds his dedication to promote and teach citizenship and tolerance through the lessons of the Holocaust.
I look forward to continuing my support of our Jewish-American community in every way that I can, from further legislation to increased outreach and awareness.
Seattle-based Holocaust Center for Humanity has awarded Blaine Middle School student Diana Kovtun second place for an art piece she submitted for the organization’s annual Writing, Art and Film Contest.
The nonprofit celebrated its 25th year hosting the contest, which is open to students in grades 5 — 12. This year’s prompt related to a recent honor awarded to Seattle, after it was chosen as one of the 11 places in the United States to care for a sapling from a chestnut tree cherished by Anne Frank.
The prompt, “How does this tree, and what you have learned about the Holocaust, inspire you and others?” garnered a response from about 900 students from 60 schools in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.
“The contest is important because it gives students a creative outlet to express some, at times, heavy and difficult concepts,” said Holocaust Center education associate Julia Thompson.
Most often, the prompts encourage kids to consider the experience of a local holocaust survivor, she said. Ultimately, the mission is to encourage kids to not only be open to learning, but also to take action in their own communities.
The contest is only one component of the Holocaust Center for Humanity’s education. The organization also offers several exhibitions and resources for teachers, including trainings, speaker opportunities and more.
Sixth grade student Kovtun attended the award ceremony in July with support from her teacher Paul Minckler. “The small sapling also illustrates that there is still hope for the survivors and their families and the hope has come,” Kovtun said in a statement.