Supporting Holocaust Education in Pennsylvania

Welcome back to my blog. For my first official post, I decided to write about why I support teaching the Holocaust in Pennsylvania schools.

I first became aware of the push to mandate Holocaust education in PA public schools through my time at the Anti-Defamation League. Two legislators from Greater Philadelphia, Rep. Brendan Boyle and Sen. Anthony Williams, have introduced bills in their respective chambers regarding this issue. House Bill 176 and Senate Bill 47 are near identical bills that state “each public school student shall receive mandatory instruction in the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations” between sixth and twelfth grades through their literature and social studies courses. Holocaust education would provide lessons on history, justice, handling intolerance and would incorporate other genocides from the 20th century.

I had considered the Holocaust to be a part of common knowledge, such as knowing George Washington was the country’s first President. Rhonda Fink-Whitman, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, changed my opinion after she quizzed PA college students on Nazi Germany and the Second World War.

How could it be that these students were so oblivious about the Third Reich? Yes, I know people on “Jaywalking” act dumb to get on TV. But I find it implausible that students were trying to look ridiculous in a video about the Holocaust.

The other event that spurred me to support mandatory Holocaust education was the antisemitic vandalism in State College, PA last winter. Two men spray-painted swastikas and racist slogans outside Beta Sigma Beta, a historically Jewish fraternity at Penn State. When the students allegedly responsible for the crime were brought before a judge, one of the defendant’s attorney claimed his client “knew nothing about who fought in World War II nor when it was fought. He also said his client didn’t know the term ‘national socialist,’ didn’t know when they were in power and didn’t know anything about the Holocaust.”

Again, how could college students in Pennsylvania be so oblivious to one of the worst tragedies in history? And while I am aware the aforementioned client was from Connecticut, why did his friend from Pennsylvania not realize the gravity of their actions? Additionally, cases of antisemitic vandalism in Pennsylvania aren’t limited to college students, or even males. In 2008, two female high school students sprayed “Hitler was right” on a synagogue in Wilkes-Barre. The older criminal even defended the Nazis in her classes and belittled her Jewish-American peers.

Pennsylvania has a problem remembering the Holocaust and its morals. And while mandatory Holocaust education won’t eradicate hate, it will definitely prepare our students to fight racism. Students need to know what to do when they are confronted with individuals with racist intents, and why particular actions are considered “racist.” If our Commonwealth fails to remember the victims of the most perverse antisemitism, then our land becomes a breeding ground of hatred and fear.

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