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House lawmakers introduce Holocaust education bill on Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Hill logo The Hill 1/27/2023 Mychael Schnell
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A bipartisan group of House lawmakers introduced a bill on Friday that would order a study on Holocaust education in U.S. public schools to help ensure that future generations are taught about the genocide as the number of Holocaust survivors decreases.

Lawmakers introduced the bill — titled the Holocaust Education and Antisemitism Lessons (HEAL) Act — on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which marks the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

During a press conference in the Capitol, co-sponsors of the bill raised concerns about the lack of Holocaust education in the U.S. and the future of such education as the number of survivors decreases, in addition to the rise of antisemitism across the country.

“As we lose the last remaining survivors of the Holocaust — who are the most elderly in our country and were child survivors at this point — it is more important than ever that we make sure that from the federal government through the state and school districts across this country that we prioritize educating about the most significant atrocity that the world has ever experienced so that it never happens again,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said.

“We cannot and we must not ever ignore the steady rise in antisemitism and Holocaust denial across Europe, across the world and increasingly here in the United States,” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) said.

The bill — which has more than 60 co-sponsors — would direct the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to launch a study of Holocaust education in public schools in the U.S. to determine which states and schools require such instruction, identify the materials and approaches used for the education and recognize the standards for the teachings, among other tenets.

According to an Axios analysis cited by Gottheimer, a majority of states in the U.S. do not have laws that require public schools to teach students about the Holocaust.

“Basically, it’s an audit to understand what’s going on so that we can address the issue,” Gottheimer said.

The bill comes amid a rise in antisemitism throughout the U.S. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) announced in April that the number of antisemitic incidents in the U.S. reached a never-before-seen high in 2021, with 2,717 occurrences of assault, harassment and vandalism reported to the group. It was the highest number recorded since the ADL started tracking antisemitic incidents in 1979.

The ADL has not yet released numbers for 2022, but earlier this month the group said beliefs in antisemitic tropes rose to a rate that had not been seen in decades. More than 85 percent of Americans surveyed by the ADL said they believed in at least one “anti-Jewish trope,” which was significantly higher than the 61 percent observed in 2019.

Lawmakers on Friday pointed to education as a way to combat the rising tide of antisemitism.

“We made a solemn promise, never again, and we know that [in] the fight against bigotry, ignorance and intolerance, education is the most powerful tool we have,” Rep. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.) said.

Some raised concerns about how to offer Holocaust education as the number of individuals who survived the genocide decreases. As of March, there were roughly 50,000 Holocaust survivors alive in the U.S., according to a report from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany cited by Atlanta Jewish Times.

“I think often about how few Holocaust survivors, and those who so bravely fought for their liberation, we have left,” Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) said, going on to say that the firsthand stories she has heard “have shaped me and my work in Congress tremendously.”

“Their stories have never been more important, and we must affirm our commitment to Holocaust education and honor its critical role in the global fight against antisemitism,” she added.

Congress passed a Holocaust education bill in 2020 that allocated $10 million over five years to help the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum supply teachers with materials to help educate students about rising antisemitism. President Biden signed the measure into law in May of that year.

Friday’s press conference also featured a few political jabs, with some Democrats taking aim at Republicans. First-term Rep. Jared Moskowitz (D-Fla.) made reference to embattled Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) who has come under fire for falsely claiming that his grandparents “fled Jewish persecution in Ukraine, settled in Belgium, and again fled persecution during WWII,” and for later saying he had called himself “Jew-ish” rather than Jewish.

“As the grandson of a grandmother — unlike George Santos — who escaped the Holocaust, as part of a Kindertransport out of Germany, it is so important to have Holocaust education,” he said.

And first-term Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-N.Y.) noted in remarks at the press conference that former President Trump recently dined with Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes.

“That’s why it’s so important that we pass this piece of legislation, so that we can truly understand exactly what the education of the Holocaust is around the country so that we will never forget,” he said, after noting the rise in antisemitism in the country.

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