New York schools are “failing” to teach students about the Holocaust, a Democrat senator has warned, as antisemitic hate crimes in the city have spiked.
New York state Senator Anna Kaplan said she wanted schools to ensure the Holocaust was being taught in classrooms, and called a lack of awareness about the atrocity “really, really disturbing”, in an interview with The Independent on Wednesday.
“We have to understand we’re failing. We’re failing to educate our children,” said the Democrat, who was speaking amid a 409 per cent rise in antisemitic hate crimes in New York City in February 2022 compared to a year earlier. There were 56 reported antisemitic crimes reported in February this year, compared to 11 in February last year.
“As I said, it was a very dark part of history. And I’m sure those conversations are very difficult for us to ask,” said Ms Kaplan. “But as difficult as they are for us to have, it’s even more difficult not to have them”.
Although New York is among 23 states that do legislate teaching students about the Holocaust, Ms Kaplan said it was unclear how effective that was – especially amid a rise in hate crimes against Jewish people.
A recent study from The Claims Conference, a New York-based non-profit organisation representing the world’s Jews, found that 58 per cent of New Yorkers aged 18 to 39 were unable to name one concentration camp.
Another 19 per cent believed Jews were to blame for the Holocaust, and another 28 per cent said the deaths of six million Jews during the Holocaust was exaggertated, or at worse, a myth.
Ms Kaplan said the findings of the study were “disturbing” and also a warning that more needed to be done to educate New Yorkers.
“For us to have those really disturbing statistics, to have people aged between 18 to 39. That’s 58 per cent of them not being able to name one concentration camp”, said the Democrat, who introduced a bill in January that would ensure all schools are teaching students about the atrocity committed against Europe’s Jews.
Her bill, which is currently in the committee stage, comes amid a recent spike in hate crimes targeting Jewish New Yorkers, with a 409 per cent rise in February from the same time last year, according to the New York Police Department (NYPD).
January also experienced a 275 per cent rise, amid a series of reported attacks such as vandalism and assault. The Independent has contacted the NYPD for comment about the data.
“I think this is really disturbing, in light of the fact that we are in 2022, in New York state in the United States of America,” said the Democrat of the hate crimes.
“I, as a Jewish political refugee (from Iran), came to this country so that I could be able, with my family, enjoy my religion and the freedoms that this country gives us,” Ms Kaplan said. “So to see this rise is so alarming on so many different levels. And unfortunately, we are very much divided in this country.”
Ending on a hopeful note, Ms Kaplan – who was elected in 2018 as both New York’s first Iranian-American senator and ex-political refugee senator, said she failed to picture anybody, whether left or right, agreeing that the Holocaust was not real.
“I cannot imagine anyone from any political spectrum, who would want to stand and say, what happened is Holocaust is fake,” she said. “Or that it’s not important enough for us to teach to our children. I think that’s also across party lines.”
On Tuesday, the Democrat unveiled the world-renowned exhibition about the horrors of the Holocaust at New York’s state capitol, called “The Courage to Remember”, which she said was vital to never forgetting, as well as for enabling “dialogue”.
“We won’t tolerate that. Because in all honesty, if a hate starts with one community, it doesn’t end right there,” said Ms Kaplan. “t works its way through other communities and other groups.”
She continued: “We all have to stand together and say, this is not acceptable. And we have to work together to make sure that we don’t tolerate this. Whether here in New York. Whether anyone else in any other country”.