Memory & Action
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Memory & Action

Engaging America’s College Youth: Robert K. Kraft and Family

Grounded in its traveling exhibition on Nazi propaganda, the Museum’s What You Do Matters leadership summits on campuses across the country engage participants in thought-provoking discussions on how to create campus environments where hate cannot flourish. —Courtesy Randall Blackford

For Robert K. Kraft and his family, the focus of their philanthropy is on “building bridges” to create greater mutual understanding. In Kraft’s opinion, those bridges are sorely needed on today’s increasingly complex campuses. “By and large, young people are really idealistic and are trying to do the right thing, but they are forming positions from a lack of knowledge. The future belongs to these young people, and we have to make sure they’re fully educated as to what the truth is,” he said.

Robert K. Kraft

The goal of the Museum is to address the lack of knowledge and the abundance of misinformation among young people. Most do not fully understand why the Holocaust happened or that, for the most part, the world refused Jews who were desperately trying to flee Nazism; had there been a Jewish state, it would not have happened.

“College students are in a particularly formative time in their lives, and the internet and globalization dramatically amplify the impact of ideas that can turn group against group,” explained Paul Shapiro, director of the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. “In such a challenging environment, the Holocaust teaches timely lessons about the dangers of antisemitism and consequences of unchecked hatred.”

Through their recent $1 million campaign gift to the Museum’s American College Youth Initiative, the Kraft family is helping to prepare young people in a world of accelerating change and uncertainty. The Museum helps them understand the fragility of societies — even democratic ones — as well as their responsibility to build and maintain tolerant societies, beginning within their own campus communities.

“In our business, I get to deal with people of all cultures. People think of us as a sports business, but we have businesses in over 90 countries. I think that people-to-people, things are great, but we have fundamentalists on all sides who try to create impressions based on stereotypical inaccuracies,” noted Kraft. “I think the great niche, the brilliance of the Holocaust Museum, is how it educates people — and education is key to everything.”

Through a powerful combination of campus outreach programs, exhibitions, summits for student leaders, and digital outreach, the College Youth Initiative is designed to foster conversations about the big issues emanating from Holocaust history, such as ethics, propaganda, hate speech, civic engagement, and decision making.

“The Museum’s education mission goes way beyond antisemitism and the Holocaust,” Kraft summarized. “If we want young people to have greater mutual understanding and tolerance, to be more open- and fair-minded, we need to give them the foundation and knowledge. I hope that our family’s gift helps the Museum implement this in a way that brings this message to life for young people.”

This article was first published in spring 2015.

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