NY Democrats stall Holocaust education bill ahead of Remembrance Day

Zach Williams

April 25, 2022

Originally published in New York Post on April 25, 2022.

ALBANY — Just a few days ahead of Holocaust Remembrance Day on April 28, Assembly Democrats derailed legislation that would examine how well New York public schools are teaching students about the wholesale slaughter of European Jews by Nazi Germany.

Records show the bill was originally on the agenda for a Monday meeting of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee before being removed. Committee Chair Helene Weinstein said that followed outreach from the state Education Department.

“There were some issues going on,” Weinstein told The Post Monday afternoon without offering specifics. “It was the Passover holiday, [I] wasn’t able to reach some people that we needed to speak to.”

State law requires that public schools teach about the Holocaust, as well as other historical topics like the Great Irish Famine and immigrants’ contributions to building the transcontinental railroad. The proposal would give the department one year to report back to the Legislature about how well students are learning about the Holocaust, according to the legislative language.

One 2020 survey found widespread ignorance of the Holocaust among young people, including a disturbing 19 percent of respondents in New York who said Jews caused the genocide of their own people. The Nazis killed roughly six million Jews along with millions of others in notorious death camps like Auschwitz-Birkenau before their defeat in WWII.

A spokesman for the department did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but the SED has a record of opposing legislative probes into its own performance on maintaining educational standards. Such concerns helped keep the bill from passing the Assembly last year.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie did not respond to a request for comment. 

The state Senate Education Committee is scheduled to consider the bill, which is sponsored by state Sen. Anna Kaplan and Assemblywoman Nily Rozic, both of whom are Jewish. 

“The senator is thrilled that the bill is on the agenda and looks forward to it passing,” a spokesman for Kaplan said in a text Monday. 

The upper chamber passed the bill in 2018 under the former Republican majority, but Committee Chair Shelley Mayer could not be reached for comment Monday about whether she expects the bill to move forward from her committee to the full Senate.

Rozic could not be reached for comment Monday, but expressed frustration over the weekend to Jewish Insider, which first reported the latest hang-up with her bill early Monday morning. 

“It is a shame truth that Holocaust survivors still have to fight to ensure that their stories are heard and more importantly that students are taught the lessons of the not-so-distance past,” Rozic told the publication. 

Despite the delay this week with the bill, Weinstein said she is optimistic that the proposal will move out of her committee before the scheduled end of the 2022 legislative session on June 2, though its prospects for passing both chambers and being signed into law by Gov. Kathy Hochul remain unclear.

“It’s not unusual that bills come on and come off,” she said about removing the Holocaust education legislation. “I fully expect it’ll be on the Ways and Means agenda for a report with recommendations before the end of the year.”