Kramer: Burns’ Holocaust doc a must-see for this generation

Many who experienced Hitler’s rise to power and the Holocaust or who studied it probably watched Ken Burns’ masterful three-part documentary “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” The series pulled no punches in assigning blame to those in this country whose complacency to the ongoing atrocities in Europe perpetuated their longevity. Despite compelling evidence of the human slaughter spreading all over Europe, high-level bureaucrats in the U.S. State Department continued to oppose efforts to assist or provide a safe haven for those whose fate was sealed if they remained in occupied Eastern European countries.

Many viewers of Burns’ presentation undoubtedly lost family in the Holocaust, and still recall the evil of the Nazi regime, either personally or passed down from older generations.

The younger generation, however, now includes those whose lives are far removed from the Holocaust. They need to be taught about the evolution of Hitler’s evil that included eugenics concepts embraced by many in this country. The current U.S. history curriculum, however, often describes the Holocaust as a statistical footnote to World War II.

Inclusion of Burns’ documentary in a school curriculum would provide a meaningful lesson in human vulnerability to acquiesce to such widespread horror and tragedy. Its historical accuracy and compelling imagery provide a sobering reminder that under the right circumstances, any country can turn its back on atrocities and human suffering. It provides a valuable history lesson as opposed to the whitewashed versions that often ignore Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh’s complicity in Hitler’s rise to power and simply label them as a famous car manufacturer and a pilot.

Historical events are typically de-emphasized as they become more distant. Burns’ series provides a timeless lesson in the human dynamic that propaganda can cause a vulnerable population to support a regime that ultimately ignores all sense of human decency. His documentary forces U.S. citizens to look at ourselves by providing a historical prism and evaluation of the American policies in place during the Holocaust. It would provide an invaluable lesson for the generation that only sees the Holocaust as a sad time gone by.

Steven Kramer was an assistant attorney general under Massachusetts Attorney General Frank Bellotti from 1980 to ’87.