Anniversary should be memorialized

Throughout the world this week, a grim 75th anniversary was being observed. It was on Jan. 27, 1945 that troops from the Soviet Union entered the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland, as they were forcing the German army back to its homeland.

Let us hope that in every high school in West Virginia and Ohio, at least part of a lesson this week deals with the anniversary.

Just a few weeks ago, West Virginians were reminded of the importance of educating young people on the Holocaust.

You may remember that a group of state Corrections and Rehabilitation trainees was photographed posing as if they were giving the Nazi salute. After the picture was publicized, every member of the class was fired. So were some other corrections employees.

Swift, severe action had to be taken, of course. But we maintain that a big part of the problem was that too many young people — everywhere, not just in West Virginia — do not understand the horror that was Nazi Germany.

Betsy Jividen, of Wheeling, is corrections and rehabilitation commisioner. She said this week that simply firing those involved in the Nazi salute episode was not the end of her agency’s response.

For one thing, a demerit system for trainees has been reinstituted. But perhaps more important, Jividen wants to educate those in her agency regarding the Holocaust. “We’re taking this as a teaching moment,” Jividen said. “We need to overcome hate. We don’t tolerate hate, but we need to teach.”

Precisely. Again, however, we cannot believe that hate was behind the trainees’ Nazi salute pose. Simple ignorance had more to do with it.

Jividen seems to recognize that. “Shame on us, all of us, if the Holocaust isn’t remembered like it should be,” she told state legislators.

Shame on us if we allow our children to leave high school without having an understanding of many brutal chapters in history, including anti-Semitism, slavery and how some Native Americans were treated.

Merely pronouncing that such information needs to be part of high school curriculums is not enough. We encourage boards of education throughout our area to ask how bigotry is addressed in the schools they oversee. If they are not satisfied, changes should be made.

This is a situation in which the old injunction about being doomed to repeat history if we forget it ought to be taken quite literally.