Teaching history: On the U.S., the Holocaust and the enduring lessons of the past

At a panel discussion at the Holocaust museum downtown yesterday for his forthcoming film, “The U.S. and the Holocaust,” Ken Burns said that instead of the planned 2023 debut, he intentionally moved up the six-hour PBS broadcast date of the documentary, which has been in the works since 2015, to this September so it would air before the midterm elections. He is not endorsing any candidate or any party, but he wants the lessons of the past to be taught.

It was then pointed out that in the 1922 midterms, during Warren Harding’s presidency, Democrat Manny Celler was first elected from Brooklyn to the House. As Burns tells in his film, Celler waged a lonely, losing fight against the restrictive immigration law imposed in 1924 to keep out Italians and Jews and others from Southern and Eastern Europe. Those quotas would prove deadly as Jews would find the door to America closed when Hitler and the Nazis came to power and the State Department threw up roadblocks. But in 1965, he would coauthor the Hart-Celler Act, opening up immigration to people worldwide.

In 1972, after 50 years in the office, Celler lost his seat to Liz Holtzman. She would author the 1978 Holtzman Amendment, barring admission to any immigrants who acted as Nazi persecutors and tasking the Justice Department to find and deport such war criminals. Now, 50 years later, Holtzman is running again for Congress to represent Brooklyn and downtown, including where the museum is located.

The current congressman representing downtown, Jerry Nadler, last fall wrote a letter to Secretary of State Tony Blinken demanding answers about why his department had failed for many years over many administrations of both parties to deport proven Nazis, including death camp guards, unearthed by the Department of Justice. There has only been silence from State.

As Burns shows, in the 1930s and 1940s, the State Department’s intransigence to admitting Jewish refugees cost lives. Now, State Department intransigence is trying to protect their own horrible record of protecting Nazis. Lay bare the whole truth.