April 8 is Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day. It’s a day for all of us to reflect on the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the Jews. A day for all Americans to celebrate the Jews’ liberation from the Nazis. And a day for all Floridians to be glad our state lawmakers are taking cues from Steven Spielberg’s Holocaust Remembrance project.
Allow me to explain that last part.
In the aftermath of his 1993 Oscar-winning film, “Schindler’s List,” Steven Spielberg launched a project to collect video testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Over a five-year period, Spielberg’s team of videographers filmed more than 50,000 interviews with Jews who told harrowing tales of life in German concentration camps.
Many of these very poignant interviews, which are now housed at the University of Southern California, are painful to watch. But they help keep alive the memory of people who suffered under Nazi oppression. They encourage us to “never forget.” And they remind us of the blessings of liberty — blessings many Americans too often take for granted.
Fast forward to 2021.
Last week, the Florida House stole a page from Spielberg’s script. It passed a bill directing the Department of Education to curate a video library containing testimonies from survivors of communist and totalitarian regimes. Dubbed the “Portraits in Patriotism Act,” the measure is designed to give Florida educators new tools they can use to help students better understand the experiences of those living under political ideologies starkly at odds with our nation’s founding principles.
“Many people have fled dictatorships in places like Cuba and Venezuela and have found a beacon of light in America and here in Florida,” notes Rep. Ardian Zika, who sponsored the House measure.
Zika is an ethnic Albanian born into a Muslim community persecuted in Yugoslavia. He has no interest in sugar-coating American history or pretending the U.S. is perfect. But Zika believes our nation’s founding principles promote human flourishing in a way that no communist system ever has — or ever will.
“The way we overcome darkness in any society, anywhere around the world [is] by bringing light — by bringing truth,” he says.
Zika is joined in that conviction by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, which strongly endorsed his legislation. He is also joined by Sen. Anna Maria Rodriquez, the bill’s Senate sponsor, who grew up in a family of Cuban exiles.
“My parents and grandparents fled and left everything they had behind coming in search of freedom,” Rodriguez said. “I am blessed to be an American citizen.”
We are living in a time of national soul-searching. A time when many people are questioning whether “American exceptionalism” is still true — or was ever true.
At a time like this, it is good for Florida students to hear from immigrants who can give first-hand accounts of what life is like under Marxism.
No, America is not perfect. We have not always lived up to our ideals. But America’s founding principles have fostered greater human flourishing than any place on earth. And our nation has very often been a force for good in the world, liberating people from totalitarian oppression.
That is a message we should seek to teach our children. And a message we should hope they never forget.
William Mattox is the director of the Marshall Center for Educational Options at The James Madison Institute and a member of the Holocaust Education Resource Council.
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