Lessons of the Holocaust

Stephanie Vallez · Wednesday, November 15, 2017
As WWII raged across Europe from 1939 to 1945, the Nazi party systematically murdered over 10 million civilians. Of those, about 6 million were Jews, roughly two-thirds of the entire Jewish community in Europe at that time.

Hitler’s army committed indescribable acts of inhumanity in their effort to create a master race of perfectly homogenous Germans, and anyone who was anything other than Aryan was at risk of something worse than death.

The Nazis not only murdered, they dehumanized their victims and did it with unspeakable cruelty and terrifying efficiency.

“The holocaust is an example of the world allowing evil to exist. It is not as much a Jewish issue as it is man's inhumanity toward their fellow man,” said Brad Wilkening.

Wilkening, an Iowa educator for over 40 years, came to the West Liberty Public Library on Sunday evening, Nov. 5, to offer his presentation, Lessons of the Holocaust.

He has made it his personal mission to educate people on the consequences of allowing evil to exist within ourselves and our world.

Wilkening’s visit to the library was sponsored by the Friends of the West Liberty Public Library.

His presentation was inspired by the world he saw around him and a class he took to fulfill his continuing education requirements.

As a history teacher, Wilkening had an opportunity to take a course on the Holocaust, and since then he has distinguished himself as a teacher not only of history, but of human kindness.

“I have found this topic to be more relevant now than ever before. The violence, intolerance, bigotry, and hatred must come to an end or our very way of life will be threatened,” he said.

“Bullying and indifference start at an early age, and we have a responsibility to help create a safer, more caring environment,” he added. “We need to be upstanders and not bystanders in the face of evil.”

Wilkening uses the Holocaust as an example of how quickly things can go from bad to worse if good people aren’t paying attention.

“After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, I became convinced that my job as an educator needed to reach far beyond making my students smarter. That is what I had been doing for 25 years. Now I knew I needed to make them better people, more humane, more caring, and understanding. This is what I want this presentation to embody.”

After intensive study on the Nazi genocide of World War II, Brad Wilkening was selected as one of only 35 people to attend a class in Newark sponsored by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous.

He has spoken with many survivors, all of whom were children during the war and are now in their 80’s and beyond.

Wilkening keeps their stories alive so that we may learn from them.

“I’m not a survivor, and I’m not Jewish,” Wilkening tells his audience at the library, but as he tells the stories of Jews that did survive, many of whom he calls friends, his eyes mist over with the overwhelming sadness of their experiences, a tragedy he believes we must never forget.

Wilkening points out that events like the Holocaust continue to happen. “Since then,” he says, “There have been 26 places where genocide is happening or has happened.”

He emphasizes that number, 26, and his somber blue dress shirt matched the mood in the room.

He talked about human trafficking, with shockingly local statistics. He talked about the prevalence of bullying in some Iowan school systems.

“One of the biggest changes I have witnessed is the advance of technology, both good and bad,” he said.

“Social media is able to allow bullying to go far beyond anything I would have ever comprehended and the results can be devastating. I know this is an issue all schools are undertaking and trying to prevent,” he added.

Although his stories are about horrors and tragedies, his message is all about caring.

He decorated the room with colorful posters, each depicting the unsung heroes of World War II, the righteous gentiles who helped the Jews survive.

The posters had a photo and brief history…

-A nun who passed off thirteen Jewish children as Catholics

-A French diplomat who secured the papers that allowed a thousand Jews safe passage through Spain and into Portugal

-A teacher who hid 150 children from Nazi death camps.

Each poster had more photos and more acts of heroism by non-Jews, who helped save the lives of Jewish children and families, risking their own lives in the process simply because it was the right thing to do.

“My goal is to keep the lessons of the Holocaust alive,” he told the audience.

“After this event we said ‘NEVER AGAIN,’ yet there are numerous places today where genocide is happening. We as individuals must do our part to help humanity survive the inhumanity that some have toward others,” he said.

As the lights brightened and people collected their coats, small talk began again, accompanied by neighborly smiles.

Wilkening, a Cyclones fan who has coached many school sports during his 40 years in education, was drawn into a friendly football debate, during which he reveals that he also supports the Hawkeyes when they’re not playing against the Cyclones.

“I’m not one of those people that’s a hater,” he smiles as he lifts his right hand, revealing a navy blue bracelet with clear white lettering. “Erase the hate,” he says, and he means it.
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