CLEVELAND, Ohio — The lessons of the Holocaust are considered so important that they are required education at schools in 15 states, according to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Ohio does not mandate Holocaust education, but efforts are underway to assure that teachers have sufficient resources to teach that subject, according to Howie Beigelman, executive director of Ohio Jewish Communities, which represents the eight Jewish federations in the state.
In the Ohio legislature, “there’s in a real tendency on both sides of the aisle for local control, so the kind of mandate [requiring Holocaust education] that other states have, would be unusual for Ohio,” Beigelman said.
However, in conversations with state legislators, he said, they’re interested in having more Holocaust resources, training and material available. Beigelman said the communities are more interested in strengthening Holocaust education than mandating it.
Sen. Michael A. Rulli has introduced legislation enhancing (but not mandating) holocaust education in Ohio schools, he said. That would establish a 15-member Holocaust Memorial and Eduction Commission, and office. Their role would include:
– Inventory current statewide memorial and genocide education programs and propose programming to fill any gaps.
– Recognize Holocaust and genocide survivors and make their stories accessible for education purposes.
– Partner with public and private organizations that serve Holocaust and genocide survivors, veterans and (concentration camp) liberators.
– Seek opportunities to provide resources for schools to effectively teach about the Holocaust and genocide.
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The need for such education has been heightened by the decreasing number of Holocaust survivors and concentration camp liberators, Beigelman said.
“We’re going to miss that [eyewitness testimony]. So anything we can do to help teachers and students access the right information in a relevant way is what’s really important at this point,” he said.
At the federal level, a measure to expand the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s national education program, called the “Never Again Education Act” was signed into law in May.
The need for that education was illustrated in a recent national survey conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, showing that 63 percent of people in the U.S. born after 1961 did not know that 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
The survey also found that 66 percent of Ohio respondents supported mandatory Holocaust education in schools, and 81 percent said these lessons are important so that the Holocaust never happens again.
Sarah Weiss, executive director and CEO of the Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center, a museum and education facility in Cincinnati, emphasized the need for Holocaust education when “our country is teetering toward a state where antisemitism and hate-crime incidents are widely tolerated.”
However, she noted that while “the lack of Holocaust knowledge should be cause for concern, I believe wholeheartedly that young people want to learn from the past and create a better future.”
She cited another recent national survey, “Echoes and Reflections,” of college students, most of whom had received some type of Holocaust education in high school.
The survey found that those students were more willing to challenge intolerant behavior in others, and showed higher critical-thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility and civic efficacy. Students also reported that the use of Holocaust survivor testimonies in that education had the most positive impact.
Weiss said that since the start of the pandemic, the center has transitioned its Holocaust Speaker Series to a Zoom format where local survivors and their families tell their personal stories every Wednesday.
“Ninety-two percent of surveyed attendees said they feel a responsibility to stand up to hate and antisemitism after watching one of our programs,” Weiss said. “We know that sharing the lessons of the Holocaust can change hearts and minds – even those who are susceptible to fringe beliefs spread by white supremacist groups.”
The educational effort should start with youths to counter misinformation they might have heard at home, said Hallie Duchon, executive director of the Kol Israel Foundation, a local group founded by Holocaust survivors. Her grandparents survived the Auschwitz concentration camp.
“It’s just desensitization. They learn it at home. Kids say things without realizing what they’re saying,” she said. “It’s all about educating them, if you can. Explain to them that what they’re saying is very hurtful.
“The lessons of the Holocaust are hate and bigotry. That it can happen. We [the Foundation] talk very much about how it started through propaganda, and how it leads to genocide – not just within the Jewish community, but in many cultures,” she added.
“We need to be more tolerant of people. We need to stick up for each other, instead of watching people get abused.”