Holocaust Studies In Maryland Schools In Hopes of Combating Antisemitism


Antisemitism and hate crimes are on the rise. At the same time, knowledge about the Holocaust is declining. A survey of American adults released last year by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found a startling lack of awareness – in fact, 66 percent of American millennials were not able to say what Auschwitz was.

This lack of knowledge and its broader implications – coupled with disturbing trend of increased hate incidents in the country – are at the heart of the recent effort by the Baltimore Jewish Council in shoring up Holocaust education in Maryland’s schools.

This fall, the Baltimore Jewish Council (BJC), in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington and members of the General Assembly, wrote to the Maryland State Board of Education urging them to more clearly define state requirements for Holocaust education. Fifty-nine delegates and 20 senators signed letters organized by Delegates Dana Stein, Shelly Hettleman and Michele Guyton of Baltimore County, and Senator Ben Kramer of Montgomery County.

As a result of their efforts, the Maryland State Board of Education recently announced that it would enhance and expand required Holocaust instruction in public schools throughout the state.

 “For years, we have been concerned that the state curriculum guidelines on Holocaust instruction are too vague and create too much potential for variations in the quality and quantity of what is taught among our state’s 24 jurisdictions,” said Howard Libit, executive director of the BJC. “With this announcement, our state educators are making an emphatic statement about our collective obligation to teach all children about the Holocaust in a consistent and detailed way.”

Over the next two years, guidelines will be developed for Holocaust instruction in the fourth and fifth grade social studies curriculum, middle school world history and high school U.S. and world history courses.

Recommended changes include adding objectives regarding the roots of antisemitism to middle school social studies units to provide a context for more intensive studies in high school and an objective at the high school level to look at U.S. involvement and the American response.

Holocaust Programs Impacting Educators and Students

Over the past few decades The Associated has invested in Holocaust education through programs aimed at educators and students. Through the work of the BJC, in conjunction with the Jewish Museum of Maryland, more students and educators are learning about this dark period in history.

“Lessons of the Shoah,” a daylong discussion about the Holocaust held at the John Carroll High School in Bel Air, brings together students from public and private schools in Baltimore County, Baltimore City and Harford County. Students hear from survivors, participate in discussions and make a commitment to combat prejudice and hate.

The response to the program is strong; this past year there were 450 participants with many unfortunately being turned away due to the program reaching capacity.

The powerful reactions to the programming can be found on the comments they leave. These include:  

  • “You taught us about ending hate and how we as a class and generation are the ones who control the future.”
  • “I will have concrete images of the Holocaust, of the firsthand injustices committed during the Holocaust for the rest of my life.  My conscience has become even more rooted in fighting for justice and speaking out against cruelty.”
  • “It is very important for this event to exist, so no one can deny the fact the Holocaust did actually happen.”

Over the years, the BJC has brought Holocaust survivors to more than 275 schools and organizations from Frederick to Annapolis to Baltimore.

In addition, the BJC and JMM have co-sponsored a one-day Winter Teacher’s Institute and a three-day Summer Teacher’s Institute to explore best practices for teaching the Holocaust. The sold-out program features survivors sharing their stories, educational resources and best practices for teaching the Holocaust, a trip the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum and trips to local exhibits – like last year’s tapestries by survivor Esther Krinitz, on display at the American Visionary Museum.

According to Ilene Dackman-Alon, the director of learning and visitor experience at the JMM, the program has made an impact. It has increased the number of educators who either bring their students to the museum for Holocaust programming or bring JMM professionals into the classroom to facilitate instruction.

“Our goal is for the educators to go back to their classrooms and teach their students about the Holocaust, antisemitism and prejudice. We hope these students will know to speak up when they see injustice,” she says.

“Programs such as Lessons of the Shoah, the Summer Teachers Institute and now the Winter Institute, inspire teachers to request Holocaust survivors to visit their schools, so that students have the opportunity to hear first-hand Holocaust testimony,” adds Jeanette Parmigiani, director of Holocaust programs.

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