John Thompson on Ken Burns’ Powerful “The U.S. and the Holocaust”

John Thompson, historian and retired teacher in Oklahoma, posts his reaction to the initial episode of the new sequence by Ken Burns, Sarah Botstein, and Lynn Novick: “The U.S. and the Holocaust.”

I just watched the next episode, and it is incredibly effective. Burns has said that this is the most crucial documentary he has at any time manufactured.

The U.S. manufactured almost no effort and hard work to open its doorways to Jews attempting to escape Hitler’s killing equipment. Why? For a single point, the American community was deeply anti-Semitic. For a different, the leaders of the U.S. Point out Division had been anti-Semites.

The Ku Klux Klan sprang again to life. The heroic aviator Charles Lindbergh, who admired Hitler, was a chief of the notorious “America First” movement, which opposed our entry into the war and was certain that Hitler would conquer all of Europe. Henry Ford was a virulent anti-Semite, whose publication printed the notorious “Protocols of the Elders of Zion.”

This series is Ought to viewing. It clears absent the cobwebs of lies propagated by rightwingers who want to cleanse the educational institutions of the dark facet of U.S. background. Loathe, bigotry, racism, and anti-Semitism are woven into our record.

Thompson writes:

Ken Burns’ The U.S and the Holocaust is currently being demonstrated on PBS. It starts with a jolt: telling how Anne Frank and her family members were denied entry to the U.S. As our nation denied entry to the extensive vast majority of Jews threatened by Adolf Hitler, 1 million have been murdered. Episode One allows us have an understanding of why President Franklin Roosevelt and other leaders were unable to persuade the American community to support guidance to Jews fleeing Nazism.

Of program, there is lots that is good about our democracy, but our histories of the genocide of Native Americans and Slavery, as properly as eugenics and its phony claims that people of colour ended up biologically inferior, contributed to our failure to react appropriately. In truth, Hitler patterned his crimes towards humanity immediately after America’s eugenics movement, the genocide of Native Us citizens, the Ku Klux Klan, and Jim Crow. Through the Wonderful Melancholy, extra than 1 million persons of Mexican ancestry ended up expelled even while far more than 60 per cent of them were being born in the U.S. And, even ahead of American Fascists like Father Coughlin and Henry Ford ramped up hatred of Jews and advocated for pro-Nazi policies, the U.S. had a long historical past of violent anti-Semitism.

Ken Burns and his workforce begun to make this film in 2015, before Charlottesville, the shootings at the Tree of Existence synagogue in Pittsburgh and at the supermarket in Buffalo, and right before the January 6th insurrection. A comparable “fragility of civilized behavior” was also on display screen in Berlin underneath Hitler. In the late 1920’s it was just one of “the most open up and cosmopolitan city in Europe” but 4 yrs later, the Nazis have been in demand. What classes can we discover from that earlier which could notify today’s “fragility of democratic civilization all about the globe, not just in this article?”

The U.S. and the Holocaust also raises thoughts these as “what are the tasks of our leaders to form public viewpoint fairly than comply with it?” and “what does this background inform us about the role of people to act when governments are unsuccessful to intervene?” It also raises rough inquiries about the job of the media in spreading detest, as perfectly as constructive information and facts.

The film’s web page also inbound links to Oklahoma’s and other states’ Academic Requirements. They connect with for large school learners to “examine the triggers, sequence of occasions and effects of the Holocaust by eyewitnesses these kinds of as inmates, survivors, liberators, and perpetrators,” and examine the “rise of totalitarian regimes in the Soviet Union, Germany, Italy, and Japan.” These types of Expectations also get in touch with for an examination of “how the media we eat styles our beliefs, views, and actions both of those historically and in contemporary contexts in this media.”

These Benchmarks are pretty regular with the concepts that Burns explored. If I ended up continue to educating high college, I’d be thoroughly setting up a unit that follows the Requirements and tutorial strategies that ended up diligently ready by state and nationwide gurus. For instance, I would start with the encouraged, very first problem, “Why do you feel lots of folks did not problem or push back again in opposition to the dangerous suggestions presented by folks who believed in eugenics?”

As also proposed, as college students viewed online video clips, and go through and analyzed the most important resource supplies in The U.S. and the Holocaust web page, I’d question them to share their “feelings or views right after each individual clip as some of the information included is quite major and may perhaps be psychological for learners.” Students would choose notes and engage in classroom discussions. I’d end with the advised dilemma, “Although the illustrations or photos and video clips demonstrated in the past clip are quite difficult to observe, why do you imagine U.S. Military leaders mentioned they necessary to be demonstrated to folks in the United States and across the world?”

I would test to repeat the earlier prosperous exercise of inviting legislators, state officers, business and political leaders to the classes so they could witness the dignity and knowledge of my college students at John Marshall, Centennial, and other large-challenge faculties. As recently as four decades in the past when I guest-taught and/or engaged with quite conservative Republicans, I realized the conversations would be civil and enlightening. Now, I know these communications would be distinct, and that I may get fired for violating HB1775.

But the implications for lecturers are absolutely nothing like the suffering of victims of the Holocaust or the potential destruction due to the failure to stand up for democratic and instructional ideas. So, I would also ask what would take place if thousands of educators would stand for our students and educate Ken Burns’ movie and internet site. They would want to thoughtfully program the procedure, hopefully functioning with faculty program administrators. Lots of or most of whom would have a long record of opposing censorships of books this sort of as Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Youthful Girl,” but who are intimidated by bills like HB 1775 and similar censorship guidelines in other states. Educators would virtually unquestionably have to find the backing of mothers and fathers and group leaders.

Educators who are also frightened to use Burns’ function, could at the very least borrow from SummerBoismier, whose teacher certification is becoming threatened for linking to the Brooklyn Library, and publish one-way links to his and PBS’s internet websites. Or they could arrange off-campus group movies or study-aloud activities (this sort of as the “Banned Guide Read Out” at OKC’s Very first Unitarian Church) for learners and/or give facts on The U.S. and the Holocaust to learners when they enter the setting up.

Such endeavours would be terrifying if accomplished on your own. But would legislators who voted for censorship of school curriculums want to acknowledge out loud that they want Anne Frank’s story banned? And would even the most serious legislators stick to as a result of with mass firings at a time of teacher shortages? We should wrestle with Burn’s problem about whether or not so quite a few hundreds of thousands of individuals from all nations would have promptly deserted democracy and humanity if there had been more resistance to Hitler in the U.S. and across the planet right before Nazism took control in so numerous sites?


As Ms. Boismeir concluded, “you have a decision to make for the potential of our point out and the state of our community universities: a politics of inclusion or exclusion. So what’s your story? What side are you on?