Are we going to give credence to those who say that there are no more facts because fake news has taken over our society?
In other words, will the term "fake news" come to mean anything that opposes our perspective? How far will fake news go? Will people say that Scriptures are fake news, too? Or that all sermons we don’t like are fake news? What is left of the moral fabric of our nation if everything is fake and nothing is real anymore? Will groups say God is fake news?
Extremist voices say the Holocaust is fake news and refuse to accept the reality and truth that the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews and many more peoples. Now, American Nazis take to the internet and manipulate social media to speak their venomous hate speech to the younger generations, profaning the dead whose ashes still fill the empty ovens of Auschwitz and other concentration camps. They march through communities like Charlottesville, Va. They get a pass or a wink from some elected leaders and back room financiers who stoke the flames of hatred in subtle but venomous way.
But there was a moment recently when truth triumphed over fake news in the Lowcountry. There was controversy at Okatie Elementary School over pictures appearing on the school’s Facebook page of two students dressed as Adolph Hitler. It was part of a school project that was trying to teach the children about World War II figures.
What came through collaboration and professionals working together for a common good was historic in Beaufort County schools. School officials worked with the community to create a special learning experience. Holocaust survivors told their stories and presented historic artifacts. The hundred children sat in silence as an 83-year-old woman from Savannah who survived a slave labor camp in Austria told her story. As an eight year old from Hungary, she was suddenly shipped with her parents to the camp and put to work in a glass factory with barely any food.
Will there be people who will say that her story is fake news, too?
Another woman told how her grandmother who was sent to Auschwitz and lost her husband and children. Her grandmother later met and married her grandfather after the war. He, too, lost his wife and children in Auschwitz. They married and had her mother in Sweden in a Displaced Person Camp and immigrated to America in 1951.
Fake news too?
At the end of the program, the children lit six candles to honor the memory of the six million. They touched a shirt worn by a concentration camp inmate and a yellow Jewish star with the word Jude or Jew which the Nazis required every Jew to sew onto their garments. They saw clothing of Jewish concentration camp prisoners and suitcases belonging to those sent to concentration camps with the same kind of Jewish star.
Is all of this fake news — the stories, the artifacts the ovens, and the gas chambers?
Every child received a rubber bracelet from the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. that said ‘What you do matters.”
I am grateful to the principal, faculty and superintendent of the Beaufort County schools for participating and supporting this special program. I hope the school board will call for the establishment of a committee to plan programs where students learn about the Holocaust, which hopefully will become part of the mandatory school curriculum in South Carolina in September.
All of us learned that when we search for the truth and face it with education, there is hope that the next generation will make a difference.
That day, we all learned how dialogue and education is the only way our society will retain its integrity and respect for human life. Only through education will our youth repair a world which today is at risk of falling into the grip of ideologues and demagogues who thrive on fake news.
In every generation, there are people who foment fake news. Will there also be the heroes who stand up and say "No more?"
The students at Okatie Elementary will be among that next generation who will defy fake news and preserve the truth of history. They are our hope that America will not loose its moral compass and build a future worthy of their dreams.