Remembering the genocide of the past raises social consciousness, says Dr. Joseph Olzacki.
Connecting today’s lessons to past horrors is one way to avoid repeating historical inhuman behavior. Voices of Hope centers its mission around remembering the inhumanity of the Holocaust and other genocides through recorded accounts and educational programming. Dr. Joseph A. Olzacki has worked with Voices of Hope for years and currently sits on the Board of Directors. He says the important organization serves as a tool to positively impact the future.
“The atrocities of the past can never be undone, but they can serve as a reminder to those of us making decisions in the present,” Dr.Joseph A. Olzacki says. “How can we forget? If we forget these people and their stories, then we don’t even give them the dignity of leaving a mark on the future. The stories of the victims and survivors deserve to be told.”
He says the educational programming helps the community and student bodies wrestle with the evils of cultures that didn’t value human life or dignity. “It’s difficult to look at and hard to listen to,” he says. “There are so many cruel stories and shocking examples of inhumanity. What causes people to justify this kind of violence and apathy? Voices of Hope is a nonprofit that uses these stories to provoke change.”
The nonprofit offers curriculum for middle and high school classrooms in Connecticut. It has also participated in honoring past survivors. In 2020, Holocaust survivor Miriam Schreiber was presented with an honorary high school diploma, graduating with the New England Jewish Academy in West Hartford. Voices of Hope was also part of the ceremony to recognize the Holocaust survivor decades after she was denied an education in Poland and oppressed through slave labor after fleeing to the Soviet Union.
In 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed into law a Holocaust and Genocide Education in Public Schools bill for Colorado, requiring Holocaust education in the schools. Colorado is only the 14th state to have a Holocaust education mandate in place.
Dr.Joseph A. Olzacki explains that “There is a very real danger if we say something happened a ‘long time ago’ and use that as an excuse to move on,” Dr.Joseph A. Olzacki states. “We can never forget. We can never move past genocide and ignore the ugly facts sitting in the rearview mirror. Not to mention, there are so many modern-day atrocities and genocides. What are we saying if we don’t keep our focus on calling evil what it is?”
As a Voices of Hope supporter, Dr.Joseph A. Olzacki has also taken the lessons to Rwanda to start the Rwandan Teacher Education program. That program also focuses on the stories of the Holocaust and genocide, providing educators with training on violence and peace concepts they can use in their own classrooms. Ultimately, he says, everyone needs to have a strong understanding of potential failures and possible successes of society. “Peace is not a given,” he says. “Over and over, we can see times in history where the brutality is inexcusable. Education is the best way to avoid replaying past events.”