Renowned Holocaust exhibit comes to LI as reminder of evils of hate

By Robert Brodsky and Keldy Ortiz

June 06, 2022

Originally published in Newsday on June 06, 2022.

A globally renowned exhibit detailing Jewish communities before and after the Holocaust will make its newest home in Nassau County’s Five Towns, a move that came days after state lawmakers passed legislation ensuring that schools across the region teach students about World War II atrocities. 

The renewed focus on Holocaust education comes amid a sharp uptick in antisemitism and hate crimes targeting Jews across the state.

On Thursday, the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns and Rockaway (HAFTR), a private middle school in Lawrence, announced the purchase of the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s "Courage to Remember" Holocaust exhibit. In a release, the academy said it would "share this incredible tool with the greater Five Towns community."

The exhibit, which has been seen around the world since at least 2012, serves as a tribute to the six million Jews and others murdered by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 and a warning that the root causes of the Holocaust persist. It has been viewed in more than 40 countries, translated into 13 languages and been seen by more than 10 million people, organizers said.

The display, which cautions viewers not to turn away from "painful truths," is told through historic items, three-dimensional layouts, text and archival photographs in forty 24-by-40-inch panels. The four major themes include the rise of Nazi Germany; the move toward the "Final Solution," the annihilation in Nazi-occupied Europe and the liberation of Holocaust concentration camps. 

The exhibition is a “very important tool in educating folks about the Holocaust, about antisemitism, about tolerance,” said Joshua Gold, principal at HAFTR. “It very much is an extension of the work that our students did in learning about survivors, getting to their stories, building those relationships.”

New York State is home to nearly 40,000 Holocaust survivors, state officials said. Nassau’s Jewish population is at more than 200,000, according to census data.

Holocaust education is “so critical and when we have less survivors to give the direct messaging, we need to have creative new tools to properly educate the next generation on the horrors of the Nazi Holocaust and what occurred,” said Michael Cohen, director of the eastern region of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization

Antisemitic incidents on Long Island jumped by 23% last year, part of a 24% spike statewide that makes New York the nation's hot spot for offenses targeting Jewish communities, according to a report from the Anti-Defamation League.

The Holocaust exhibit, which will be available to the public at future events, was on display Thursday during the school’s annual "Names, Not Numbers" event where students met with Holocaust survivors as part of an education project.

Danielle Aronovitz, a speech pathologist at Lawrence public schools representing the Lawrence school district, said the students worked “in unity to create significant oral history records to capture a portion of the history that must never be forgotten or misconstrued.” 

The exhibit’s new home on Long Island comes on the heels of the unanimous passage last week of state legislation requiring students from second to 12th grade to learn about the Holocaust.

The measure authorizes the state Education Department to conduct a survey to determine which schools are teaching about the Holocaust at each grade level. Any school district that does not attest to teaching about the Holocaust would be required to issue a corrective action plan explaining how it will comply with the new standards.

“The Holocaust was a very dark time in the world’s history,” said state Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck), the bill’s lead sponsor. “To see so much destruction and people targeted because of their race or religion is something that we need to teach our children about at every level of grade. We know that people who don’t remember history and don’t learn from it can still repeat it.”

Sean Hurley, chair of the Social Studies Department in the Northport-East Northport School District, said students already study the Holocaust beginning in eighth grade.

“The focus expands on it as a historical event to look at the human impact of the Holocaust where students study and often hear directly from Holocaust survivors,” Hurley said.

Brandon Karp, who teaches about the Holocaust in the district, said he hopes students learn “the importance of being involved in society and to be aware. It all starts somewhere and it’s important to be civically involved.”

A recent study by the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 58% of New Yorkers ages 18-39, could not name a single concentration camp; 19% believe that Jews caused the Holocaust and 28% believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated.

In each of these three metrics, the survey found, New York had the worst score of any state in the country.