For young people to understand the atrocity of the Holocaust, Melvin Macklin believes they must view the 6 million Jews killed not as a collective group, but as individuals.
Numbers don’t resonate in the same way as a survivor’s own words, said Macklin, an associate professor of English at Ferrum College.
That’s why Macklin is writing a book about child survivors of the Holocaust geared specifically toward high school students. Though there are thousands of books and testimonies about the Holocaust, Macklin said it doesn’t seem many make it into the hands of high school students.
“I think they should have more of an in-depth awareness of what the Holocaust was and what it meant, especially when it comes to remembering and honoring the memory of those people who perished,” Macklin said.
Macklin’s work on the project is supported by a $30,000 grant from the Appalachian College Association. The professor will be on sabbatical from Ferrum for the 2019-20 academic year. He’ll spend the fall semester at the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas and the spring semester at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
Macklin headed to Texas in July to get reacquainted with his temporary home; he earned a certification in Holocaust studies from the Ackerman Center years ago.
Much of Macklin’s work will involve interviewing child survivors of the Holocaust. The professor said he’s had great luck in finding interview subjects. It seems whenever he mentions the project to someone, they offer up a connection.
Macklin also made a number of connections when he organized a conference on the Holocuast at Ferrum in 2015. The event featured speakers who lived through the Holocaust in their youth.
It was Macklin’s inability to understand the evil behind the Holocaust that drew him to study it. The Holocaust has been part of his curriculum for various courses at Ferrum, where Macklin joined the faculty in 2008.
Though the book he plans to write is geared toward high school students, he said it would be informative for college students as well. Macklin plans to incorporate what he learns during his research, which will include listening to existing testimonies and also interviewing survivors, into his courses at Ferrum.
The fact that Holocaust survivors are aging adds a certain urgency to the work.
“As all Holocaust scholars and pundits have said, once these people are gone, this is going to be the only source of information that we have about the Holocaust, what they have written and the legacies they have left,” Macklin said.
It was important to the professor that he do his “little part” to record those histories and ensure the Holocaust doesn’t fade from our collective memory.
The findings of a survey released last year indicated knowledge of the Holocaust was lacking among Americans, particularly young people.
Many people seriously underestimated the number of Jews that had been killed; 31% of all Americans and 41% of millennials put the figure at 2 million or fewer. Similarly, 45% of Americans could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto.
The survey was conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
Macklin said he believes the Holocaust and other genocides are “the offspring of bigotry and hatred.” He hopes that teaching young people about them will highlight the importance of tolerance and acceptance of diversity.
That message is particularly relevant today, as the Anti-Defamation League reported “near-historic levels of anti-Semitism” in the United States in 2018, based on the number of incidents recorded in its annual audit, released this spring.
“I think the more young people who are exposed and learn about the Holocaust, the more potential we’re going to have for future peace,” Macklin said. “At least this is my hope.”