New York Gov. Kathy Hochul signed legislation on Tuesday that will improve Holocaust education in classrooms, acknowledge art stolen from Jewish homes during the war and recognize financial institutions waiving reparation fees for survivors.
Hochul, who has a history of allocating funding and aid toward survivors, marked the occasion with a visit to the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park, where she signed the three bills. “We’re going to continue standing with our Jewish brothers and sisters, because we know what happens when people turn a blind eye,” she said during the ceremony.
“So, ‘never forget’ is more than a slogan, it’s what we preach. But I want to make sure it’s really being taught,” she added.
The headlining bill of the package, the Holocaust education bill (A.472C /S.121B), acts upon a law enacted in 1994 requiring state schools to teach about the Holocaust. Sponsored by Assemblymember Nily Rozic and state Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, the new legislation works directly with the New York State Education Department, which will conduct audits in each district to see whether or not those requirements are being met.
Kaplan, who also sponsored a second of the three passed bills, told Jewish Insider that as a “Jewish political refugee” — Kaplan was born in Iran and fled the country as a child — making sure New York’s children have a strong understanding of the Holocaust is incredibly important to her.
“I think it is really imperative that we teach Holocaust [education] to our kids in a meaningful way so that they can learn from it,” she said. “And based on all the statistics that we’ve been seeing here in New York, which has been a home to so many Holocaust survivors, we’re doing a very bad job.”
A recent Claims Conference report found that 58% of New York’s Gen Z and Millennial adults couldn’t name a single concentration camp or ghetto. It also found that 19% believed that Jews caused the Holocaust. Additionally, New York was found to have had the most antisemitic incidents of any state in 2021, according to the ADL.
“In the light of, really, an increase in hate in our state and in this country and around the world, we need to make sure that we do everything in our power to combat it. And I think one of the best ways we could do that is through education,” Kaplan said.
The second bill passed (A.3719A/S.117A), also sponsored by Kaplan along with state Assemblymember Charles D. Lavine, will require all museums throughout the state to acknowledge and make public note of any artwork being displayed that had been stolen or looted from Jewish owners by the Nazis.
In a press release announcing the signings, Lavine made note of the long-term suffering survivors have had to face. “Eighty years later we are still forced to confront the horrors of the Holocaust. Too many people remain ignorant of the indiscriminate wholesale murder of more than six million Jews by the Nazis during World War II, plus the countless examples of humiliation and, in cases such as this, blatant profiteering. This law is indicative of how we must continue to fight hate through education,” he said.
The final bill passed (A.9338/S.8318), sponsored by state Sen. Zellnor Myrie and Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, will require the Department of Financial Services to publish a list of all banks waiving fees for Holocaust survivors receiving reparation payments.
“These fees may sound small, but to survivors living on fixed incomes, $40 per transaction adds up quickly,” Myrie told Jewish Insider.
“We can’t stop banks from charging these fees — but the state can use its “soft power” to encourage banks to waive these charges for Holocaust survivors and commend those who choose to do so. Annually publicizing and updating the list of these banks will also help survivors and their families make more informed financial decisions,” he added.
“As long as I’m your governor, as long as I have a breath in my body, I will stand to protect this community and honor the story and the people that had to endure the Holocaust,” the governor said at the conclusion of Wednesday’s signing.