It’s been 75 years since Allied troops liberated the Nazi concentration camps of Europe, and the world faced the crimes against humanity that have come to be known as the Holocaust.

Those who survived pledged to tell their stories as long as they lived. Their slogan was “Never again.”

But now few of these witnesses are still living, and their absence shows in a recent 50-state survey of young adults’ knowledge of the Holocaust, conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

In Maine, 68 percent of those surveyed couldn’t meet all three minimum standards of Holocaust education: having “definitely heard” of the Holocaust; being able to name at least one concentration camp or ghetto; and knowing that 6 million Jews had been killed.

Maybe even more troubling than Maine’s 32 percent score on the test of Holocaust knowledge is that it makes us a national leader in this area. Maine placed fourth among the 50 states, trailing the leader, Wisconsin, which had a score of 42. These results show that memories of the Nazi genocide are disappearing along with its survivors, and it could become completely forgotten if we don’t do something about it.

In Maine, L.D. 1050, a bill that would require schools to teach African American history and genocide, including the Holocaust, passed the House and Senate and sits on the Appropriations Committee table to see if will be funded. This survey clearly shows that it should.


For one thing, the bill calls for only $9,000 in spending so the Maine Department of Education can conduct meetings with educators to help them develop curricula. School districts will be able to access programs from the Holocaust and Human Rights Center of Maine at no cost. Even in a revenue crunch, this is something the state can afford.

But more importantly, all members of our society should have a working understanding of the Holocaust. As the survivors told us, prejudiced attitudes led to acts of discrimination. Racist rhetoric led to racist policies and, eventually, to genocide. People need to know that Hitler did not start with Auschwitz. Studying the Holocaust demands that you take prejudice of any kind seriously.

And these events present students with one of history’s great moral questions. When the German people saw what was happening, why didn’t they stop it? Why were there so few dissidents who tried?

Students of Holocaust literature have to ask themselves, what would I have done if I had been there? Am I the kind of person who would let my neighbors be murdered because I was too afraid to do anything?

Thinking about these questions prepares us to act when we are needed. It’s what the survivors mean when they say, “Never again.”

As they fade into history, it’s important that we keep the survivors’ testimony alive. Maine should not delay in requiring the study in our schools of the evil that is genocide.

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