New York to monitor compliance with Holocaust education requirements, honor survivors

Originally published in Daily News on August 10, 2022.

ALBANY — A new law signed by Gov. Hochul on Wednesday calls on state education officials to review how New York schools teach the horrors of the Holocaust.

The mandate directs New York’s education commissioner to conduct a study verifying whether public schools are properly educating students about the persecution and genocide suffered by European Jews at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Hochul and bill sponsors Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-Nassau) and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Queens) touted the measure’s importance amid recent upticks in anti-Semitic violence and reports that young Americans are uninformed about the Holocaust and the 6 million Jews killed.

“We need to teach people when they’re still young because we can not have these horrors repeated,” the governor said during a signing ceremony at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan.

State law already mandates students learn about the atrocities of the Holocaust and certain other topics including slavery, the Great Irish Famine and how immigrants contributed to building the transcontinental railroad.

However, the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found in a recent survey that young New Yorkers lacked basic knowledge about the Holocaust. The group found 58% of state residents between 18 and 39 could not name a single concentration camp, 19% said that Jews caused the Holocaust, while 28% believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated.

The bill calling for an assessment of how schools approach the subject passed both Dem-led chambers in the Legislature this spring after stalling in the Assembly a year earlier amid concerns about how the state Education Department would carry out the survey.

According to the law, the audit must include questions on how the district is meeting the learning standards as required on the Holocaust and a school district superintendent must attest that students are being taught about the subject “at all appropriate grade levels.”

A corrective action plan will be required for school districts that fail to meet state standards.

“It will provide schools a pathway to remedy shortcomings and will provide all of us, at all levels of government, with a report on the findings so we can continue to improve the education New York students deserve,” Rozic said ahead of the signing.

Another bill signed into law on Wednesday requires New York museums to put a notice in front of art stolen by Nazis during World War II. The Nazis looted approximately 600,000 paintings from Jews and some of those works are displayed at institutions across the state with no indication of their origins.

A third measure requires the New York State Department of Financial Services to maintain and update a list of financial institutions that waive wire fees associated with Holocaust reparations payments.

Roughly a third of Holocaust survivors in the U.S. live in poverty. The new law is meant to ease unnecessary burdens that banks may place on survivors receiving reparation payments.