There is a difference between history and facts

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A memorial to victims of the Holocaust stands at the site of the gas chambers in the remains of the Treblinka extermination camp in Poland. (Jim Bowen/Flickr Creative Commons)

Despite the importance of factual knowledge in today’s educational system, there is a predominant insufficiency in students’ understanding. This system hinders the processing of information beyond a simple regurgitation of facts on an exam. By promoting short-term memorization of facts, an academic system is merely providing temporary knowledge that will not affect students beyond the point of examination. This poses a problem, especially in the field of history. In order to prevent the repetition of historical tragedies, it is crucial to provide an impactful and long-lasting understanding of history. Students that have not been impacted by an education in history contribute to a societal regression in which historical tragedies and mistakes are repeated.

In teaching history, there is a great deal of nationalism and bias that can hinder the forwarding of accurate information to students. With every presentation of historical information to others, bias accumulates and distorts the modern perspective of historical events. Since distorted history is almost as useless as not teaching history at all, it is important to learn history from an unbiased source. To do so, students should be given the opportunity to formulate their own opinions based on undistorted factual knowledge. These facts come in the form of testimonies, accurate data, legislation and more direct sources.

A prime example of the importance of direct sources is in teaching about the Holocaust. Despite of all the physical evidence proving the reality of the Holocaust, there are a myriad of people who deny its existence in our timeline. This is a belief that has been passed on and accepted by a large number of people, which can only have been accomplished through a distorted description of history. To convince large groups of people that this is the case is to teach them biased facts. This illustrates the power of propaganda and persuasive speaking.

On a recent trip to Poland, I was taught the history of many monuments that commemorate the Holocaust through testimonies of victims, survivors, soldiers, along with data regarding food rations and population levels. It was through my absorption of these sources that I was able to formulate my own experience and perspective on this historical tragedy. For instance, on a visit to Auschwitz Birkenau, we stopped at the commandant’s (Rudolf Höss) office and the yard where he was hung. Rather than being given a speech about the horrible actions the commandant committed, we read his testimony from when he was tried for his crimes. He was accused of murdering 3 million people, but stated that he was “only responsible for the deaths of 1.5 million people” because the rest had died from starvation and other indirect causes. This testimony struck me, I was impacted by the strength of ignorance on Hoss’ behalf, and more so by the fact that there were many more murderers like him that would have agreed with him. This impact is not one that I would have felt through hearing a speech by someone who knows about this case. Only by hearing the commandant’s words was I able to comprehend the scale of the organized murder that occurred.

A trip to Poland is one of the only ways one can deeply understand the scale of the horror that occurred during the Holocaust. Only by seeing where it all took place—the sizes of the camps, the gas chambers and ghettos—it becomes clear. There is gap between a history lesson about the Holocaust and the impact I have gained from this trip. Aside from the real knowledge I have learned about the Holocaust, I have also taken with me the understanding that a history lesson is worthless without exploration of a given point in time. In other words, I understand the importance of learning history from direct sources and experiences rather than mere lessons.


Keren Blaunstein is a weekly columnist for The Daily Campus.  She can be reached via email at keren.blaunstein@uconn.edu.

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