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Dara Horn Questions Holocaust Education: “People Love Dead Jews”

Dara Horn, a journalist best known for her book People Love Dead Jews, which encapsulates the problem of current anti-Semitism relating to Holocaust education in America, spoke on the flaws of Holocaust remembrance in regard to current anti-Semitism on April 18th in the Heights Room. Her book was selected as the New York Times Notable Book of the Year and has attained worldwide recognition, as it has been translated into 25 languages. 

Horn started her talk by recognizing the point of Holocaust Remembrance Day, a Jewish holiday that is called Yom HaShoah in Hebrew. Horn points out that the lack of action and ignorance surrounding current anti-Semitism does not align with the sympathy for murdered Holocaust victims.

Horn explains that Jewish people often feel the need to erase their Jewish identity in order to gain respect and make society more comfortable. Simply put, she said, “why do we honor Jews only when they lack agency?”

Horn provides a popular example of this among the American Jewish community through the story many descendants of Jewish immigrants have been told. The traditional story tells how Jewish immigrants arrived at Ellis Island and had their Jewish-sounding last names changed by workers. However, this story is untrue, Horn claims. Instead, many Jewish immigrants went to courthouses and Americanized their names themselves, as cited by thousands of court records. 

As a result, generations of Jewish people have done the emotional work of burying the anti-Semitic sentiment that has affected them. 

Horn’s second point revolves around the lack of effort to eradicate anti-Semitic sentiments in Holocaust education. She revealed that the American education system’s Holocaust education curriculum in elementary and middle schools actually does nothing to eradicate anti-Semitism.

She argued that Holocaust education focused on Americanizing survivors as regular people, in turn separating them from their Jewish identity rather than requiring people to engage with Jewish text, values, or people. 

Horn said, “people tell stories about dead Jews that make them feel better about themselves.”

With today’s increasing anti-Semitic sentiments, Holocaust education does little to understand Jewish identity and placate current hatred. In recent years, anti-Semitic attacks have been rampant. Recent examples include the attacks of Hasidic Jewish people in Jersey City, New Jersey, and a synagogue attack in 2017 in Pittsburgh. 

Horn queries how to solve these problems and questions the purpose and integrity of Holocaust education at. In the end, Horn asks, “why do we care so much about how these people died if we don’t care how they lived?”

Kate Karafin
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