In March 2018, Dr. Joseph A. Olzacki gave a pre-recorded testimony in Connecticut’s State Capitol, explaining why it is imperative for Connecticut children in the public school system to be taught about genocide and the Holocaust. The legislation was passed and has been in place for the last several years, and it’s clear that it’s never been more important than it is now. Dr. Olzacki reflects on his role in passing the all-important bill and the effect it has had on teaching children the importance of tolerance for people of other nationalities and ethnic backgrounds.
“One day while working at a Bloomfield school, I was discussing an article with students about Hate Crimes and how Americans did not pay attention to the mass murder in Europe until after 1940, I quickly realized that my students had little knowledge of Genocide. … I learned that the textbooks we were using only gave 3 paragraphs to the Holocaust,” Dr. Joseph Olzacki said in prepared comments to Connecticut legislators at the time the bill was under consideration.
The Holocaust and Genocide Education and Awareness Act, which was later passed, gives Dr. Joseph A. Olzacki hopes that the future can be different from the past and present. “Education is the best way to avoid replaying past events,” he recently noted. He is the first to admit that stories of man’s inhumanity to man aren’t easy to listen to but rightly points out that humanity can’t simply move past atrocities and genocide without calling out evil for what it is.
Dr. Joseph Olzacki: His Legacy
Dr. Olzacki’s work isn’t just designed to tell children about what happened in the past. As an award-winning educator who puts a premium on critical thinking, he emphasizes not just the horrors of the past but also ways future genocides can be averted. Voices of Hope, the non-profit organization Dr. Olzacki works with, uses stories from Holocaust survivors and stories of genocides that took place in the more recent past to provoke change.
There is still work to be done in educating the public about the horrors of past and even present genocides. A recent survey found that nearly 25% of 18- to 39-year-olds in the United States think the Holocaust is a myth, has been exaggerated, or “aren’t sure” if either statement is true. Almost half of the survey respondents could not name a single ghetto or concentration camp. A whopping 63% of individuals didn’t know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust; over half of these young men and women thought only 2 million were killed.
Dr. Joseph A. Olzacki has earned multiple awards for his work. He was named Educator of the Year by the Hartford Symphony Orchestra in 2008. He was given the Paul Harris Fellow Award by Rotary International in 2010. He earned the University of Hartford Humanitarian of the Year Award in 2011. Even so, his greatest reward has been seeing the results of the passage of the Holocaust and Genocide Education and Awareness Act. Over a dozen states have similar bills and young people throughout the nation are now learning of the horrors of genocide and what can be done to prevent it in the future.