Just finished watching a PBS special titled “Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State.” Very moving and frustrating hearing and watching about how the Allies made choices involving millions of lives during WWII. This piece of the larger series dealt with the movement of the Hungarian Jews to Auschwitz and the attempts by German Nazis to sell 1,000,000 Jews for 10,000 trucks.

British and American intelligence officers and later military and civilian leaders made sure that the exchange didn’t take place. In part, according to a British government document that stated if the exchange had been allowed “even more Jews would be unloaded on us.” Allied military commanders were also ordered to not formulate plans that would allow bombing missions of the Auschwitz cremetoria and railroads.

Following the episode, Linda Ellerbee talked with Gail Smith, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Jerry Fowler, director of the Committee on Conscience at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Both Smith and Fowler talked about why teaching about the Holocaust is important and specifically what teachers should focus on.

1. Basically their conversations centered around the idea that actions and non-actions have consequences. Some decisions and actions resulted in great evil. At the same time, other actions resulted in selfless acts of kindness, courage, and sacrifice. And Fowler made an interesting comment: failure to act will almost never result in positive results.

The three continued to talk and related the Holocaust and the action/non-action idea to Rwanda and present-day Sudan. But Fowler observed that right across the way from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was the Jefferson Memorial. On that memorial are the words “All men are created equal.” Over the last 200 hundred years, Fowler went on, there have been times when people would throw up their hands and cry out for justice. “How can those words be true when for hundreds of years the US had legalized slavery and for almost hundred years after that, we had legalized segregation?”

But some acted. Some made a choice. And their choices and actions had a positive effect. Both Fowler and Smith pointed out that is why teaching the Holocaust and other periods of persecution and segregation is important: it provides examples of positive choices that made the world a better place.

Okay . . . long intro. As part of the “American Rights and Race Relations: The Legacy of Brown” grant project and knowing what little I now know about African-American history and race relations in this country, I asking myself:

What actions and choices am I making that improves where I live? How can I help students understand that? Maybe more importantly, what am I choosing NOT to do?