Never Forget! Never Again! Words to Remember

Originally published in Jewish Press on June 01, 2022.

Depending upon whether Governor Kathy Hochul signs or vetoes a measure that would eventually lead to proper Holocaust education studies in public schools, students could be dissuaded from thinking the Holocaust was a myth or the deaths exaggerated in the history books.

The bill, S.121B/A.472C, sponsored by Senator Anna Kaplan (D-Great Neck, Nassau County) and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows, Queens) would mandate the state education department to conduct a survey of schools to identify which schools are teaching about the Holocaust. The survey is required to be attested to by the Superintendent of each school district that they are teaching about the Holocaust appropriately at each grade level. The survey will also have questions on how the district is meeting learning standards about the Holocaust. Each school district that does not attest that they are meeting the standards will be required to issue a corrective action plan on how they plan to comply with standards.

Both lawmakers gave impassioned pleas from the chamber floor in each house for passage of the bill.

“A recent study by the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference) revealed disturbing findings about Holocaust knowledge among New Yorkers ages 18 to 39, including that 58 percent cannot name a single concentration camp, 19 percent believe that Jews caused the Holocaust, and 28 percent believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated. In each of these three metrics, New York had the worst score of any state in the U.S.,” Kaplan stated. “When we talk about the Holocaust, we say “Never Forget.” In order to forget something, you need to learn about it in the first place. The statistics show that we are not doing a very good job of teaching our kids about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazis. Learning the lessons of the Holocaust is more important today than ever before. It’s taken on a new urgency in recent months as we all watched in horror a peaceful European nation was invaded under false pretenses and cynically, using Holocaust misinformation as an excuse to do so.”

Rozic wrapped her comments around International Holocaust Memorial Day.

“Last year, after returning from a New York delegation to Poland, I spoke on this day and I mentioned the need to take antisemitism in the United States seriously before it gets worse. I spoke about the need for an education initiative and community action,” Rozic told her colleagues earlier this year. “A year later it is sad to report that we have little to show for ourselves aside from a 12 percent increase of antisemitic incidents, according to the Anti-Defamation League. Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remains at near historic levels.

“Last year I walked through Auschwitz-Birkenau where countless innocent people were murdered for their religion or ethnicities. Let’s be clear, each attack we’ve experienced is used to inspire the next. This has been the case historically and in current times. Today there are those who use the same words and images to further deadly antisemitism. They send Jewish legislators, like myself, antisemitic postcards scrawled with the number 1488, a reference to Heil Hitler, they show up at protests in T-shirts that proclaim 6MWE, six million weren’t enough or a sweatshirt that reads Camp Auschwitz. The Holocaust, the shirt announces, was unfinished business. It even ends in violence as we saw in Monsey, Jersey City and Pittsburgh.

The speeches culminated with “Never Forget” and “Never Again,” two slogans that have endured for more than 75 years.

“When we talk about the Holocaust, we say Never Forget. In order to forget something, you need to learn about it in the first place,” Kaplan said. “The statistics show that we are not doing a very good job of teaching our kids about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazis.”

The measure has been held up in the Assembly for several years.

“This is a crisis. Include the Jewish community in your activism. Teach future generations about this stain in history and stand side by side in action so we can truly live up to our pledge of Never Again. Antisemitism thrives in these actions, acronyms and conspiracy theories both online and in real life. It existed before the Holocaust and it didn’t end with the liberation of the death camps. Antisemitism is alive and well right here in New York and in the U.S. May the mere mention of Nazi always horrify and embolden us to speak out and denounce antisemitism. Don’t look away, don’t excuse this behavior,” Rozic implored her colleagues to understand.

“It’s important to remember the atrocities of the past so we can learn their lessons for the present and future,” said Assemblyman Simcha Eichenstein (D-Borough Park/Midwood, Brooklyn). “We must educate our children about the dangers of antisemitism and all forms of hate. We must never forget.”

The New York City Council passed a resolution supporting the Rozic measure urging passage in the lower house.

“We are in a period of time when there is a disturbing increase in antisemitic hate crimes and a troubling rise in the number of people who believe the Holocaust did not even happen,” said Councilman Eric Dinowitz (D-Bronx), chairman of city council’s Jewish Caucus. “This bill will help ensure our children are learning about this terrible period in our history and taking those lessons to ensure the horrors of the past are not repeated.”

Non-Jewish city lawmakers signed on to the resolution as well.

“The increase in antisemitic attacks across the globe, and specifically here in New York City, are a reminder that the bigotry of the past still exists in our present,” said Councilwoman Marjorie Velázquez (D-Bronx). “This is not only about reflecting on the horrors of history but understanding the continued need to educate those who are ill-informed of the past. Knowledge and compassion are our greatest tools in combating hate, which is why I fully support legislation to ensure our children are taught these moments of history.”

“In a world rife with antisemitism, racism and hatred, education is our most powerful tool to open the minds and hearts of the young,” said Dr. Shay Pilnik, director of Fish Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Yeshiva University. “I cannot thank state and city lawmakers enough for forwarding our mission at the Fish Center of ensuring that future generations never forget the damage, violence and heartbreak that hate and intolerance visit upon the world.”

Even though the bill passed unanimously in both houses, only three of the eight Jewish senators signed on to sponsor the measure: Kaplan, Brad Hoylman (D-Lower Manhattan) and Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach, Nassau County). The senators not signing on as a sponsor to support the measure are Simcha Felder (D-Borough Park/Midwood, Brooklyn), Liz Krueger (D-Midtown Manhattan), Shelley Mayer (D-Yonkers, Westchester County), Elijah Reichlin-Melnick (D-Nanuet, Rockland County and Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Flushing, Queens).

The measure passed unanimously in the Assembly with 18 of the 21 Jewish lawmakers backing the bill by signing on as a sponsor. The three not sponsoring the measure are Didi Barrett (D-Hudson, Columbia County), Richard Gottfried (D-Murray Hill, Manhattan) and Phillip Steck (D-Colonie, Albany County).

The governor has until the end of the calendar year to decide whether or not to sign the measure into law.