Ben Gibbs, Contributing Writer
The Holocaust and its survivors teach valuable lessons about the dangers of intolerance, the need for common human values and the power of choice. These lessons are conveyed widely in books, the media and museums, but they lose pedagogical impact when they are not attached to the life of a survivor or the death of a victim.
This past summer, the Dallas Jewish community mourned the passing of Mike Jacobs, a Holocaust survivor and one of the founders of the Dallas Holocaust Museum. He was 89. Born Mendel Jakubowicz, Mike was sent to a ghetto in Poland at age fourteen, and almost six years later he was liberated from Mauthausen-Gusen II in Austria.
Mike survived hard labor in several camps, including Auschwitz-Birkenau, and several forced “death” marches, but he also lost 80 relatives, including every member of his immediate family. The Holocaust is undoubtedly one of the most evil events of our recent world, and with the passing of survivors like Mike Jacobs, society is losing poignant voices in the fight against ignorance and intolerance.
Mike Jacobs and other survivors have valuable lessons to teach, and although they are only visible through the inspection of a difficult historical problem, they are crucial for the improvement of the world we live in. Therefore, it is imperative that students visit places like the Dallas Holocaust Museum and speak to survivors or hear their testimonies; only then will the lessons of the Holocaust be spread with the proper impact.
We live in complex times, and while many praise the German government’s announcement of reparation payments to child survivors, others denounce America’s alliance with Israel through demonstrations such as a “blood bucket challenge.” With such competing values fighting for attention, it is imperative to remember that the Holocaust and its survivors have lessons to share, especially today. With the survivor generation passing at an accelerated rate due to old age, students and citizens now more than ever must educate themselves on the Holocaust and its significance, before the Holocaust education loses its most important teachers: the survivors themselves.
I did not meet Mike until early 2013, but our interactions, however brief, made a profound impact on me. Students and visitors, often in tears, would listen to Mike share pieces of his testimony and implore students to “never forget” and “never give up.” His words made an impact on students in a way that could not be achieved by a typical academic lesson, and that was because he was sitting in front of the students, looking into their eyes and fully capturing their attention. Survivors across the world share their testimony in this way, but with their passing comes a more imminent need for the dissemination of their stories and lessons.
I considered Mike a friend, and I will be forever thankful for the lessons he taught me both as a scholar and as a person. May his memory live on.