Guest Column
How to begin the next generation of Holocaust education | Column
I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors. Heroic sacrifice made my life possible. We must never forget.
The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg has a railcar that the Nazis used to transport people to the death camps.
The Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg has a railcar that the Nazis used to transport people to the death camps. [ Times (2017) ]
Published Nov. 8, 2021

I’m not supposed to have ever existed. I am the grandson of Holocaust survivors. But for the heroic acts of people who gave up their lives, my grandparents would have been murdered, and I would have never been born. Every morning, before I get out of bed, the first thing I ask myself is what I am going to do today that will make me worthy of such sacrifice. It is the fuel that compels me to try to make a difference in the world every day.

Mike Igel
Mike Igel [ Provided ]

Knowledge is the key to fighting antisemitism and ensuring that such despicable acts that took place during the Holocaust never happen again. My goal is to take these horrific stories and transform them into educational tools. I continue to learn more about the atrocities perpetrated against my family and those like them. There are too many just like me — the descendants of the survivors and victims of genocide. Our stories must be told. The job is daunting. Thankfully, in Florida, I am not doing it alone.

Two years ago, after research revealed the small percentage of students who knew about the Holocaust, Florida lawmakers passed, and the governor signed into law, legislation establishing Florida’s Holocaust Education Week. This year, Holocaust Education Week will take place today through Nov. 12 — timed, as always, to coincide with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, which many identify as the shift from the Nazis’ antisemitic rhetoric to outright genocide.

The Florida Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education, which I chair, advises Commissioner Richard Corcoran on trailblazing efforts to ensure Holocaust education is provided to every student in Florida. Our state has long been a leader in statewide Holocaust education. Florida was the first state to require by statute Holocaust education in schools. Many states have followed. More recently, Florida is the first to establish detailed education standards to guide teachers in how the lessons of the Holocaust should be taught. For all of this, we should be thankful and proud of our state leaders.

This work is critical. Survivors will not be with us for long. Shockingly, there remain those who cast doubt on the Holocaust as a historical fact. We need not look far: This group includes a former Florida high school principal and, just recently, similar issues arose in Texas. We cannot allow the stories of the Holocaust to pass away along with those who were there. While survivors are still alive, we must listen to and retell their stories. When they are no longer here, we must turn to their children and grandchildren.

If future generations do not carry the torch of Holocaust education, the history is at risk of being lost. This year, the Florida Department of Education, with the support of the task force offers free Holocaust educational resources to school districts across the state to help them observe Holocaust Education Week. For example, resources provided through The Florida Holocaust Museum include state-of-the-art curriculum for teachers, over 19,000 artifacts, virtual tours, “teaching trunks” available for free to any teacher who requests one, conversations with a survivor and so much more. Other institutions throughout Florida offer additional programming. The resources are out there. It is incumbent upon all of us to do the work. These materials should touch every student in Florida.

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When we achieve that lofty but realistic goal, every student will be inspired to wake up each morning and ask how they can positively impact the world around them. They need to discover what I learned from my grandparents’ story. Ordinary people can make an extraordinary impact on the lives of others, and, in turn, on the world.

Michael A. Igel, a third generation Holocaust survivor, is chair of the Florida Commissioner of Education’s Task Force on Holocaust Education and board chair of The Florida Holocaust Museum.