On International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which commemorates the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the U.S. House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed on Monday the Never Again Education Act, a bill that seeks to expand Holocaust education.
The final tally was 393 to 5, with four Republicans and one Independent, Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, voting against the bill.
If enacted, it would expand the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education programming to teachers nationwide, requiring the museum to develop and disseminate resources to improve awareness and understanding of the Holocaust and its lessons.
The bill heads to the U.S. Senate, whose version slightly differs from the one in the House.
“We have learned over time that it’s not enough to simply condemn these attacks and disgusting actions,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who co-introduced the bill with Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) last year, at a press conference on Capitol Hill on Monday ahead of the House vote.
“We also need to get to the root causes of the hatred, denial, intolerance that drives these acts,” she continued. “Studies have shown that education is one of the best ways to knock down the lies and the denials and foster mutual understanding and respect.”
Under the House bill, which had 299 co-sponsors – 204 Democrats and 95 Republicans – $2 million would be allocated annually for this year and each of over the next four years to the Holocaust Education Assistance Program Fund, administered by the USHMM’s governing body, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council. Private donations for the fund would be permitted.
“It’s a start, but it’s an important start,” Maloney told JNS at the press conference when asked how the bill would keep up with the demand in terms of funding for Holocaust education.
The original House version designated the U.S. Department of Education to oversee the program. The Senate version – introduced in July by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) – is identical to that. It currently has 28 co-sponsors – 18 Democrats, nine Republicans and one Independent.
“We’re two different bodies,” said Maloney when asked by JNS about the discrepancy.
She explained that “there was some disagreement about how the curriculum should be handled and I just felt that it would be better to move it to the Holocaust museum where it would become the prime focus of that museum to tell the story, to preserve it and to combat anti-Semitism.”
The legislation would create an online Holocaust education repository of resources for educators to teach both middle and high school students about the genocide that killed 11 million people, 6 million of whom were Jews.
Additionally, the House bill would establish a 12-member Holocaust Education Advisory Board to carry out the responsibilities under the bill.
Three of the members would be appointed by the Senate majority leader, three by the House speaker, three by the Senate minority leader and three by the House minority leader. Each member would serve a four-year term with four of the members serving an initial six-year term. Vacancies wouldn’t affect the board’s powers.
Currently, 18 states either encourage or require teaching about the Holocaust.
One third of Americans believe murder of Jews ‘exaggerated’
A survey released last year by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany revealed that a third of all Americans believe the scope of the murder of Jews in the Holocaust has been exaggerated.
The data showed that the large swath of Americans believe that just 2 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust, rather than 6 million.
In addition, 45 percent of Americans could not name any of the 40 ghettos or concentration camps erected by the Nazis, with a whopping 66 percent of millennials being unable to state the significance of “Auschwitz.”
While 93 percent of those polled said they believe students should learn about the Holocaust in schools, 70 percent said people are less concerned about the Holocaust than in the past, and 58 percent said a Holocaust or similar catastrophe could occur again.
“Holocaust can be referred to, for instance, a nuclear Holocaust, a natural disaster Holocaust,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer at the press conference. “But this is a very specific type of Holocaust. And it is hate against a people because of their ethnicity, their religion, their color of skin, some factor that should be irrelevant.”
Less than half of Americans, some 45 percent, know that 6 million Jews perished in the Holocaust, while 29 percent weren’t sure or had no answer, according to a Pew Research Center study released on Wednesday.
However, 69 percent of respondents correctly said that the Holocaust was between the years 1930 and 1950, while 63 percent of respondents correctly defined the Nazi-created ghettos as “parts of town where Jews were forced to live.”
Moreover, 43 percent of participants responded that Adolf Hitler became German chancellor “by Democratic political process,” while 25 percent replied “by violently overthrowing German government.” Another 28 percent saying they didn’t know or had no answer.
According to Pew, “the data suggests that relatively few people in this group express strongly negative feelings toward Jews,” and that “respondents who get more questions right also tend to express warmer feelings toward Jews.”
Maloney had introduced the Never Again Education Act numerous times over the past years, first doing so 20 years ago.
“It’s not easy to pass a bill in the United States Congress,” she said when asked why it took so long for the bill to finally come up for a vote.
“This has been a divisive Congress in many ways. First of all, you have to find the right people to work with you. And I thank Stefanik and [Nebraska Republican Rep. Don] Bacon for coming forward and working so vigorously for it.”
Maloney noted it’s “hard to move” a bill unless “there’s a groundswell of support from the American people.”
She said that after talking about the bill at the Jewish Community Relations Council in her district, where Hadassah CEO Janice Weinman was in attendance and approached the congressman to give her organization’s support on behalf of its 300,000 members nationwide and making the bill a top priority for Hadassah.
‘Legislation addresses a critical need for our country’
Along with Hadassah and the USHMM, other organizations that support the bill include the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Congress.
“This legislation addresses a critical need for our country and an urgent priority for Hadassah,” said Weinman in a statement. “It is imperative that we make every effort to push back against the hatred, bigotry, anti-Semitism and extremism fueling violent attacks – and the best way to do that is by passing the Never Again Education Act.”
“Improving the availability and enhancing the quality of Holocaust education is within our reach. Educators deserve our full support in their efforts to instill its universal and timeless lessons in every generation,” she continued. “The House has spoken clearly and on a bipartisan basis. Now is the time for the U.S. Senate to make the same powerful statement by quickly passing the Never Again Education Act.”
“We are pleased that the House has taken action today, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, to ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust will be passed from one generation to the next,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt told JNS. “We look forward to this law’s swift passage and to working closely with teachers and districts across the country to ensure that Holocaust education is uniform and consistent across the country.”
“With anti-Semitism experiencing a sharp resurgence across the nation and the world, it has never been more important for our youth to be educated on how 6 million men, women, and children were brutally murdered against a backdrop of collective silence,” said American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen in a statement.
“The importance of this act, especially in this 75th year after the Holocaust cannot be overstated,” B’nai B’rith International CEO Daniel Mariaschin told JNS. “Making available the resources to tell the story of the Holocaust to new generations of Americans is absolutely essential to ensuring ‘Never Forget.’”
Rabbi Aryeh Spero, president of Conference of Jewish Affairs, told JNS: “It is a worthwhile attempt to help reduce anti-Semitism, and credit should be given to those who are trying to stem anti-Semitism.”
“I do, however, hope that it speaks directly to and stays focused on what the Holocaust was about: Jew hatred and the destruction of the Jewish people,” he continued. “I hope it does not become so universalized, as we have often seen, that the specific intent of the Holocaust is lost in a general and overarching theme about hate in general or intolerance in general … the Holocaust was designed as the mechanism to specifically erase forever the Jewish People in a Final Solution.”
“We Jews need to feel that Jew hatred is such a potent force that we must focus primarily on the real intention of Hitler and the Holocaust so that this waiting-in-the-wings evil never happens again.”