New York State to monitor compliance with Holocaust education requirements

Originally published in Forward on May 31, 2022.

Dani Dayan, chairman of Yad Vashem, said in an interview there is still ‘a lot of work to do’ on Holocaust awareness and confronting antisemitism

New legislation that ensures compliance with Holocaust education requirements in New York secondary schools passed the state legislature with unanimous support last week after a long-delayed process. 

The legislation — sponsored by state Sen. Anna Kaplan from Great Neck and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic from Queens, both of whom are Jewish — was stalled by Democratic leaders in the Assembly since it was introduced last year amid a dispute over its purpose.  

Gov. Kathy Hochul is expected to sign the bill in the near future, but her office  didn’t provide a timeline when reached on Sunday. The governor has 10 days to sign or veto a bill once it’s delivered to her by the legislature, a move that has yet to happen.

New York is one of 23 states requiring public schools to teach the Holocaust. Congress passed in 2020 the Never Again Education Act, which provides $10 million over five years to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to bolster its educational programming to give teachers the resources and training to teach about the Holocaust.

The new bill orders the commissioner of education to conduct a survey on compliance with the requirement and submit its findings to the governor and state legislature. 

It comes at a time when awareness about the Holocaust is at historic lows among Millennials and Gen Z teens. A survey commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in 2020 found that 60% of Millennials and teenagers in New York do not know that 6 million Jews were murdered during World War II, and 58% couldn’t name a single concentration camp and ghetto in Europe. Nearly 20% thought the Jews caused the Holocaust. The number of antisemitic incidents in New York have also increased by 24 percent last year, according to an annual report released by the Anti-Defamation League. 

Rozic said her legislation will help students learn about the horrors of the past so they are not repeated. “It is imperative that we teach our students the dangers of antisemitic attitudes and actions, and that we teach them how to combat Holocaust distortion and trivialization,” Rozic said. 

Hochul told reporters following a meeting with Holocaust survivors last month that the bill is an “important” improvement to the state law. “We can never forget the atrocities that people — because of their faith, who they were — were subjected to, in the last century,” she said. “I personally believe that this education needs to be part of the curriculum, and people need to talk about these experiences.”