Tag Archives: WWII

Teaching A Thousand Years in 90 Minutes or Less

Last week, this video popped up in my Facebook newsfeed, showing college kids being asked questions about the Holocaust…and being unable to answer them.

Now I don’t expect people to be experts on the subject matter—I’m certainly not one myself—but some of these kids couldn’t even answer name which country Adolf Hitler led during WWII.  Another student thought that WWII was waged 300 years ago!

Stretch - Calista FaceThis is a critical gap in our education system.  In past blogs I’ve explored how ignorance and indifference fueled the Holocaust grow from one extremist party to a world war, and the danger lurks not just in the past, but in the present.  When we hide ignorance and hate, or ignore its potency, we give it room to grow untended.  We cannot prevent the Holocaust in 2013, but we can use the knowledge gained from the experience to combat genocide today.

The video makes an excellent point that these students are not to blame for their ignorance, but their lack of education.  As a teacher’s daughter, I know just how that time is almost as tight as money in public schools.  But I also know that the responsibility of education does not fall solely on the shoulders of the teachers themselves, but on each and every member of the community.

This particularly applies to the arts. I’m sure we’ve all heard about arts funding being the first to go in budget cuts, and I’ve heard many debate about the usefulness about the arts and humanities at all.  Shouldn’t we have more doctors, more engineers, more teachers!

The answer is yes, of course!  But we also have a vital need for those who can see the whole story, and tell it to the engineers, Stretch - teachingthe doctors, the teachers, the lawyers.  Armed with that information, they can do their work that much better.  But how can a doctor treat a wound they don’t know about?

This is why I Have Lived a Thousand Years and other educational projects from outside of schools are so vital.  We can provide vital support to our struggling schools and give direction to the students of tomorrow, whether they want to be dancer or a doctor.

It doesn’t take much to made a difference. A 90 minute show can be the introduction of a new generation to a brighter future.

An Education in Ignorance

Stretch - Denai
Stretch dancers discussing the Holocaust.

A few weeks ago, Lyndell lead a history session to help educate the company about WWII, the Holocaust, and dispelling some of the myths about the people involved.

What struck me the most from our discussion was when I heard that Hitler learned to read from anti-Semitic pamphlets.  I can’t help but wonder: What if the first things that Hitler had read hadn’t been couched in ignorance and hate?  What if he had read about new technology, or music, or even something as mundane as farming?

I’m sure it took more than a few pamphlets to lead him down the dark road to the Holocaust, but I find it significant and tragically ironic that the materials he used to educate himself were based in falsehoods and generalizations.  Those pamphlets were not the cause of the Holocaust and the terror visited on those involved, but they were the first step towards genocide.

When we talk about the evils of the Holocaust, we often focus on hatred and racism as its strongest factors.  For me, however, I see another theme that runs through the history of WWII: ignorance.

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The poster reads “Sterilization is liberation, not a punishment. Who would want to be responsible for this?”

I was particularly struck by this while reading I Have Lived a Thousand Years.  Part of the motivation for eliminating the Jews was the German obsession with eugenics, the idea of breeding out undesirable traits.  For Germans during this time, blonde hair and blue eyes signified a superior human being.

For us, the concept is laughable.  Why should blue eyes indicate a higher level of intelligence?  And yet, the most powerful men behind the Holocaust believed in it so much, they were willing to systematically murder over 11 million “undesirables.”

Genocide does not begin with burning bodies, but with burning books.  Those at the head of these murders often try to hide that the victims are people just like us, despite different coloring, religion, or anything else that pseudo-science may try to classify.

Stretch - Jewish Propaganda

I truly believe that knowledge is our greatest shield against such depravity, and that ignorance is evil’s strongest weapon.  This is why I believe so strongly in Lyndell’s vision for our production of I Have Lived a Thousand Years. 

By breathing life into the very human lives the passed through those dark gates, we can take one step towards combating that ignorance and prove that any tolerance of hate is dangerous.

The next world leaders are sitting in classrooms right now.  What are we teaching them?  Are we teaching them to hate, as Hitler learned?  Or are we teaching them the bravery to face the truth, and the courage to do something about it?