By Sabina Mollot
Following a spate of disturbing incidents of anti-Semitism in New York City, including in her district, Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney is reintroducing legislation aimed at making holocaust education a mandatory part of the curriculum at schools around the country.
Maloney said she has introduced the Never Again Education Act at least five times already but is hoping that with Democrats in the majority, she can finally get the bill the hearing it has so far been denied. She said she’s also already gotten support from a few senators on a potential companion bill and in Congress, the bill has 22 co-sponsors.
“We’re making progress,” Maloney said, before blaming the bill’s inaction these past few years on what was then a GOP-led house. “It’s really hard to get anything passed in the U.S. Congress,” she said. But, she added. “If it comes to the floor of the Congress, I think it would pass.”
Along with making Holocaust education required, the legislation also provides a $2 million budget for things like textbooks, visits to schools from experts and holocaust survivors, field trips and a website with educational resources for teachers.
The Congresswoman discussed the bill on Monday at Center for Jewish History on 16th Street, alongside holocaust survivors and representatives of Jewish organizations who gave stats on spikes in hate crime aimed at Jews. According to the Anti-Defamation League, incidents of anti-Semitism rose by nearly 60 percent in 2017, which was the largest single-year increase since the ADL began keeping such records over 40 years ago. The most deadly incident of anti-Semitism in this country was the mass shooting last year at The Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh that killed eleven worshippers. Additionally, within Maloney’s tri-borough district, three men were arrested last week for assaulting two Hasidic men in Crown Heights.
“The rise in anti-Semitism in our country is extremely disturbing,” said Maloney. “In the district I represent, people have been beaten up just for being Jewish. This is outrageous. This is America and this has got to stop.”
She also said that as a former teacher, she was frustrated to learn that many Americans don’t know much about the Holocaust, with 53 percent believing that Hitler forced his way into power. “They don’t realize this horrible villain was elected,” she said.
New York is one of eight states that has laws requiring Holocaust education with 13 other states recommending this. “But that is not really enough,” Maloney said.
Bernard Michael, CEO of Center for Jewish History, said it was important for students to hear stories not just about victimization but of people who helped survivors as well as those involved in Jewish resistance efforts. “There’s a lesson for today’s children in the dangers of extremism,” he said.
The handful of Holocaust survivors and children of survivors at the event also spoke briefly about their experiences, and how they’ve always thought it was important to share their stories at schools, but that they certainly couldn’t do so forever.
“Who is going to tell the stories that words of hatred lead to tragic consequences?” asked Betty Ehrenberg of the World Jewish Congress.
A survivor in attendance named Dasha Rittenberg said, “If somebody had told me then in my life that I would still be hated, that someone would still want to destroy me, and by me, I mean my people, my children, I would not have believed it. What I see and hear now is so shocking. I would say nobody should have survived. No one should have survived to go on and live in fear.”
According to a study conducted by Claims Conference, 31 percent of all Americans and 41 percent of millennials believe that substantially fewer than six million (two million or fewer) were killed during the Holocaust.
Additionally, while there were over 40,000 concentration camps and ghettoes in Europe, 45 percent of Americans cannot name a single one, with that percentage even higher among millennials.
At the same time, the study also found that 93 percent of responding students believed all students should learn about the Holocaust in school with 80 percent saying it should be taught so it doesn’t happen again.