July 10, 2020

Educating Students in the Public School System about Displaced Persons: Should it be Mandatory?

As a Holocaust scholar, I have often marveled at the fact that not everyone learns about the Holocaust in school. While some countries such as Germany and the United Kingdom require Holocaust education for all their students, few states in the US—Florida, New York, California, New Jersey, Illinois—mandate classes on the Judeocide.  Some states have passed legislation encouraging teachers to include the Holocaust in their curriculum and provide resources to do so. My home state of Washington, for example, passed Bill SHB2212 in 1992 that states, “Every public high school is encouraged to include in its curriculum instruction on the events of the period in modern world history known as the Holocaust….” I have always thought there is a moral imperative to teach high school students about at least one case of genocide before they graduate. And, after careful consideration, I feel a similar conviction about teaching American students about the plight of displaced persons.

According to the International Refugee Committee (IRC) right now there are approximately 42 million displaced people in the world, the majority of which are in Africa. IRC postulates that 1 in every 170 people have been uprooted by war making it the largest category of victimized people in the world. One-third of displaced people (12 million individuals) are recognized as refugees, those who have crossed an international border to seek out safety. The remaining two-thirds have been internally displaced, meaning they have been forced to flee their homes but are still inside their national boarders. Women and children account for 80 percent of the world’s refugees.

Given the size of this crisis, it is a wonder that educating our students about the challenges facing displaced children their own age in other parts of the world is not yet required. Lesson plans on refugees could easily go hand in hand with genocide education as the two are very much interrelated. The genocide in Darfur, for example, has created a whole new generation of young refugees commonly referred to as Lost Boys and Lost Girls. And as immigration has become such a focus of American politics, stories of refugee immigration would be a useful vehicle for discussing immigration practice and policy.


Did you learn about refugees in middle or high school? If so, please say where in the comments and whether you thought it was useful.



To Check Out State Profiles on Holocaust Education, see: http://www.ushmm.org/education/foreducators/states/


Photo Source:

<a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/mklingo/2809961438/”>Max Klingensmith</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>cc</a>

6 thoughts on “Educating Students in the Public School System about Displaced Persons: Should it be Mandatory?

  1. When I was in Roman Catholic grammar school in the early 1960s in Chicago, I recall a story in one of our readers about a family of displaced persons. I can’t recall their ethnicity or religion or the circumstances of their displacement. It was either because of WWII or post war Communism. I clearly recall them being referred to as “displaced persons” and “DPs”.

    The story was about a neighborhood welcoming them and to discourage the use of the term “DP” in a derogatory way.

    I knew some of our own neighbors were displaced persons but not the circumstances of their displacement. (As an adult I learned a Slavic Lithuanian neighbor had the number tattoo the Nazis put on him.)

    Ours was a neighborhood of immigrants and their descendents. Displaced persons in our neighborhood were of similar ethnicity. Acceptance was not an issue.

    I’ve not thought about that until I read your post. While I am no longer a Roman Catholic, I appreciate the concepts of justice, caring, and compassion that I was taught. That story was a very early lesson in that.

  2. Adding units on genocide and/or displaced persons to a high school curriculum could very powerful and, unfortunately, seemingly continually timely. It’s estimated, for example, that there may be up to two million displaced people who will be trying to cross international borders for their safety when the US military pulls out of Afghanistan after 2014.

  3. Hi Lexie
    You’re probably familiar with the Neighbors Who Disappeared project in the Czech Republic, which focuses especially on children who disappeared during the Holocaust. It was done in collaboration with the Jewish Museum in Prague, http://www.jewishmuseum.cz/en/asoused.htm. I know that they have a traveling exhibit that has come to this country from time to time, and I believe made its way to at least a few schools in this country. I wonder if any of your readers saw that exhibit?

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