NY Lawmakers Push For Holocaust Literacy In School Curriculum

Originally published in Patch on April 30, 2021.

The legislation would require a study, a report of the findings, and regulations to ensure schools are sticking to education law.

State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, sponsor of the bill, Michael Cohen, eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Sen. Jim Gaughran, Assemb. Nily Rozic, Arnie Herz, president of the American Jewish Committee on Long Island, at a news conference Thursday. (State Sen. Anna Kaplan) State Sen. Anna M. Kaplan, sponsor of the bill, Michael Cohen, eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Sen. Jim Gaughran, Assemb. Nily Rozic, Arnie Herz, president of the American Jewish Committee on Long Island, at a news conference Thursday. (S

GLEN COVE, NY — A group of New York lawmakers pushed to ensure Holocaust literacy is included in school curriculums throughout the state at a news conference Thursday at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County in Glen Cove, days after two swastikas were painted outside of an elementary school in Port Washington.

The legislation would authorize the state's Commissioner of Education to conduct a study to determine which school districts are offering instruction on the Holocaust in compliance with education law, and require a report on its findings by Jan. 1, 2022. As part of the paired legislation, which is being sponsored by Sen. Anna Kaplan (D-North Hills) and Assemb. Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), the commissioner would be directed to draft rules and regulations ensuring school districts are offering instruction on the Holocaust in compliance with education law.

A recent study by the nonprofit Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany of state residents 18 to 39 years old shows "shockingly poor awareness and understanding" of the events surrounding the Holocaust, including 58% of the participants unable to name a concentration camp, Kaplan's office said. The study also found that 19% believe Jews caused the Holocaust, and 28% believe the Holocaust is a myth or has been exaggerated.

In each of the three metrics, New York had the worst score of any state throughout the U.S., according to Kaplan's office.

"When we talk about the Holocaust, we say, 'Never forget,' but in order to forget something, you need to learn about it in the first place," said Kaplan.

"We're doing a terrible job of teaching our kids about the atrocities of the Holocaust and the six million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, and in a time when disinformation is exploding, and anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic violence are on the rise, it's never been more important to teach the lessons of the Holocaust to the next generation," she said.

Cases of anti-Semitic crimes have been prevalent along Long Island's north shore this past year. Swastikas were painted inside of the Police Athletic League Building in Port Washington last summer.

Months later in December, the website for the North Shore Hebrew Academy in Great Neck was hacked to allow the posting of Nazi imagery.

Swastikas were found painted outside of Philip Sousa Elementary School on Sunday. A juvenile suspect in that case of hate graffiti was arrested on Thursday.

Kaplan was joined by other elected officials from the state Senate and Assembly, as well as leaders from the Jewish community.

Rozic said there are "historic levels" of anti-Semitism in the state and around the country, "never again needs to be a call to action and not merely a platitude offered on Holocaust Remembrance Day and Genocide Awareness Month."

"When study after study delineates embarrassing ignorance and misinformation about the Holocaust, we need to rectify the issue at the source — educational requirements," she said.

"Ensuring that the Holocaust is properly taught in schools coupled with education on recognizing anti-Semitism and other hate crimes is a crucial first step in stopping dangerous conspiracy theories."

Andrea Bolender, chair of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, said to staff there have worked with many school districts on Long Island on "a standardized and thorough Holocaust and genocide curriculum," but there is still a lot of work that "remains to be done."

"We support this bill as we know that the only effective vaccination for hate is education," she added.

Assemb. Charles Lavine, who is Jewish and whose entire European family was killed in the Holocaust, said he was proud to support the legislation to ensure students are taught about the Holocaust. He said the legislation works hand-in-hand with his Hate Education bill, which makes learning about the hate symbols of swastikas and nooses mandatory.

"We must never cease in our efforts to attack hatred through education," he said.

Sen. Jim Gaughran (D-Northport ) said it is "vital" students be educated about the horrors of the past, including the Holocaust, so as not to repeat history.

"The continued uptick in hate crimes in our region and nation is horrifying and we must take action to stem this crisis," he added.

Sen. Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) called the study "deeply troubling."

"By ensuring our children are taught about the Holocaust, we can foster a more tolerant society and stamp out the spate of hate crimes that have infested our state and nation," he said.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran noted the county recently commemorated the 75th anniversary of World War II and honored the diminishing number of survivors of the Holocaust and veterans who served in World War II.

"We must redouble our efforts to ensure present and future generations understand the lessons of past," he said. "With anti-Semitism on the rise again, it is more important than ever that we speak up and combat hatred through education."