Holocaust education bill inches closer to passage

Originally published in Spectrum News on June 07, 2021.

Last September, the Claims Conference released a 50-state study that showed knowledge gaps among 18-to-39 year-olds regarding the Holocaust.

In New York state, 58% of this group of young people, known as Millennials and Gen Z, could not name a concentration camp, 28% said they believed the Holocaust was a myth or has been exaggerated, and 19% said they believed Jews caused the Holocaust.

New York state wasn’t alone in this deficit, but it was among the states with the lowest level of Holocaust knowledge, along with Georgia, Mississippi, and Arkansas.

It prompted two lawmakers, Senator Anna Kaplan and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, to sponsor a bill to study how well the state’s school districts are teaching the subject. 

“What we know is that Holocaust survivors and first-hand stories are becoming less and less frequent, so students really need to have a better understanding of the lessons from that time period so that we don’t repeat it,” Rozic told Capital Tonight.

But the Chair of the Education Committee, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, has not been supportive of the bill, saying it would be “an unfunded mandated” on the state Education Department. 

In an emailed statement to Capital Tonight, the department (NYSED) said it doesn’t comment on pending legislation. 

NYSED also shared that Holocaust instruction begins in the 8th, 9th, 10th and 11th grades. The K-12 NYS Social Studies Framework includes:

  • The marginalization of Jews in European society during the reformation
  • Human atrocities and mass murder that occurred during the Holocaust
  • The United Nations Declaration of Human Rights as a response to the Holocaust and an international attempt to protect threatened groups
  • The Nuremberg Trials and the contributions of Supreme Court Justice Robert Jackson

Nevertheless, Rozic said anti-Semitism is on the rise, and data backs her up her claims.

“We have seen alarming rates of anti-Semitism and hate crimes in New York, and you have to connect the dots,” she said. “Those things (a lack of effective education and hate crimes) are interrelated.”

When asked about hate crimes against other races, including Asians, Blacks and Native Americans, Rozic said for her constituents and her community in Queens, it’s important to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. 

“I come from a place where you should be teaching about everyone and would welcome other bills and other legislation that require similar oversight,” Rozic said. 

According to Rozic, both A472a and its counterpart S121a are in their respective house’s Rules Committees, which is the last hurdle before a floor vote.