By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

NEWS-Eizenstat_Stuart

Stuart Eizenstat

A new emphasis on Holocaust education is vital 70 years after the liberation of the final Nazi death camps, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat says.

Only eight states require Holocaust education even as it has become mandatory in school systems around the world, in part through Eizenstat’s own efforts since he was deputy Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton.

“It’s a real shame,” said the Atlanta native and longtime Ahavath Achim Synagogue member.

Eizenstat, now based in Washington, will be back in Atlanta as the keynote speaker at the community Yom HaShoah observances sponsored by the Breman Museum, Eternal-Life Hemshech and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta on April 19.

Eizenstat has spent much of his professional life the past 35 years, since his time in the Carter administration, pursuing the claims of Holocaust survivors and the families of the Nazis’ victims. His work has included winning $8 billion in restitution from Swiss and French banks for Holocaust victims’ assets they held, $300 million in unpaid life insurance for tens of thousands of policyholders, the return of hundreds of looted works of art, a $50 million agreement with the government of Lithuania in 2011, and a $60 million agreement reached with France in December to pay non-French citizens who were deported on the French railway during World War II.

In a phone interview, Eizenstat said that the pursuit of assets is a crucial but imperfect form of justice for Holocaust victims and that education takes on increasing, enduring importance.

“Education is absolutely essential to deal with two levels,” Eizenstat said: the Holocaust deniers on the fringe and the general ignorance of people. He said education has to look forward and address the lessons that can be applied, such as what can happen anywhere when good people fail to speak out against evil, and not only look back at what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s.

Eizenstat cited some encouraging examples. He said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is making Holocaust education mandatory in Catholic schools within his archdiocese, and the Defiant Requiem Foundation, whose board Eizenstat chairs, is sending DVDs to the schools as teaching aids.

He recently talked to Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant about setting up a special Holocaust program to build on one school district’s penny program. Much as the Paper Clip Project brought home the reality of the slaughter of 1.5 million Jewish children in the Holocaust, so the penny project has each child bring in a penny to represent a child victim of the Nazis.

“The key is getting young people and teachers and principals to make this part of their curriculum,” Eizenstat said. “Now in most schools you may get a day or so on World War II, if that much, and maybe an hour if you’re lucky on the Holocaust.”

The Defiant Requiem Foundation, dedicated to the legacy of the Terezin prisoners who found hope in Verdi’s “Requiem,” contributes to the educational effort through live concerts, a documentary, a summer institute for educators and lesson plans on its website (www.defiantrequiem.org).

Eizenstat will do his part during the Yom HaShoah observance April 19. He will speak during the 11 a.m. ceremony at the Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery, then offer more extensive remarks at 2:30 p.m. at the Breman on how to honor Holocaust victims in the turbulent 21st century.

It’s the 50th anniversary of the Memorial to the Six Million, which was unveiled for Yom HaShoah on April 25, 1965. “When I was told about this being the 50th anniversary,” Eizenstat said, “it was an irresistible invitation.”