Educator reminds audience of Holocaust lessons

April 25, 2017

Lessons from the slaughter of 6 million European Jews by Nazi Germany remain urgent several decades later, Holocaust educator Stephen Feinberg said Monday in Fort Wayne.

The Holocaust “provides a context for showing what happens when a society remains silent,” Feinberg said at the annual Yom Hashoah observance at Rifkin Campus at 5200.

“Some people say the first sign of an assault on democracy is when you have to speak up. You don’t wait and say, ‘Oh, well that first assault was minor, we’ll wait for something major,’ ” he said.

“You have to be very alert in a democracy,” he said.

Feinberg, a former middle school teacher who is retired from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, spent most of his presentation examining the Holocaust of 1933 to 1945: the persecutors, killers, victims, survivors and people who aided and rescued Jews.

He reminded the audience that Jews and others “were oppressed not only by Germany but by many nations, organizations and people who collaborated with Nazi Germany. Major historians have said: No collaboration, no Holocaust.”

Later in his remarks, Feinberg noted that even the United States government turned away a German ship carrying Jewish refugees in 1939.

Feinberg, a member of the U.S. delegation to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance from 1999 to 2011, devoted part of his lecture to technologies employed by the Nazis “to do evil things.”

The Third Reich adapted census-taking punch-card machines to create a Jewish registry. They took advantage of Europe’s train system to transport masses of people to killing camps, where gas chambers were the extermination tool of choice. All of this was done in an attempt to “purify” what Nazis considered the German “race,” Feinberg said.

“Where do a lot of people in America today get their information? They get it from Twitter. The use of technology : very important to take that responsibly,” Feinberg said in an aside.

Feinberg developed and implemented the Holocaust Museum’s Teacher Fellowship Program and for several years designed and led the museum’s national educational outreach program.

Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, began Sunday evening and ended Monday evening. Established by the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, in the early 1950s, the observance falls a week after the seventh day of Passover and a week before Israel’s Memorial Day, known as Yom Hazikaron.

The Jewish Federation of Fort Wayne sponsored Monday’s program, which featured prayers, music and a mayoral proclamation in addition to Feinberg’s lecture.

Earlier Monday, the Anti-Defamation League announced that anti-Semitic incidents in the United States increased 86 percent during the first quarter of this year, after a 34 percent increase for all of 2016.

The ADL said 541 anti-Semitic incidents happened in the first three months of 2017. They included 380 harassment incidents, 155 acts of vandalism and six assaults on people.

Of the 1,266 acts targeting Jews and Jewish institutions in 2016, six were in Indiana, including four reports of vandalism and two reports of harassment, according to ADL data.