On this Yom HaShoah, a Renewed Need for Holocaust Education
(This Op Ed first appeared in the Huffington Post on 04/24/2017)
Every year as we memorialize the victims of the Holocaust on Yom HaShoah, we solemnly repeat the phrase that has become the slogan of the memorial movement: never again. Every year these words seem even more appropriate as we witness atrocities around the world that remind us our work isn’t done: the genocide in Darfur; the rise of ISIS; the unspeakable slaughter of innocent Syrians. And as Jewish families across the country commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt, they ask the same question they do every year: Why is this night different from all other nights?
Just as well, we should all take note that this year is different from all other years. We hear the same hateful rhetoric spewed by world leaders whose only goal is ethnic cleansing or greater power over oppressed people. Yet, this year, we have an American President who doesn’t seem to understand the grave importance and true meaning of never again.
The clichéd phrase we’ve all heard time and again is that we must know our history, lest we repeat it. Yet, its application rings so true today.
Just two weeks ago, on the eve of Passover, we witnessed the spokesperson for the president unequivocally minimize the suffering of the Jewish people by falsely claiming that Adolf Hitler never used poison gas on the Jews during the Holocaust. Prior to that, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Trump Administration released a statement minimizing the suffering of the Jews in Europe by completely omitting any mention of the Jewish people, as the statement listed a number of other impacted groups. Lest the American public assume this was a mistake, the administration proceeded to double down on its denialist claims that the Holocaust was not the direct attempt to rout out an entire people.
This rhetoric is shameful and disturbing at a time when anti-Semitic sentiment is on the rise around the world. Meanwhile, we’re seeing an uptick in vandalism and threats of violence directed at Jewish Community Centers and cemeteries across the country, as well as increasing membership among far-right fringe groups. Just last month, in our own community, Mt. Carmel Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery, was tragically vandalized in a show of shameful disrespect to the families of those buried there. We should all be alarmed.
We must mean it when we say never again. We must mean it when we argue that history’s darkest chapters must not be repeated. I have worked tirelessly during my tenure as an elected official toward achieving that goal. As a state legislator I introduced and passed legislation that would mandate the teaching of the Holocaust in all Pennsylvania public schools. As activist Rhonda Fink-Whitman portrayed in her influential documentary, “The Mandate Video,” the lack of basic knowledge about the Holocaust among students who have not received such schooling is appalling. Students educated in Pennsylvania public schools could not correctly answer questions about the Holocaust, genocide, or Adolf Hitler. I am proud that Pennsylvania responded by requiring this teaching in public curricula, the sixth state to do so. Today eight states now require such education.
But more must be done. There are still 42 states that do not require that Holocaust education be taught in their public schools. That is why, as a Member of Congress, this week I am introducing legislation that encourages full adoption of this requirement across the country.
The fight will not be easy. In some ways, it may get tougher as we struggle to address these rising factions without our own free-thinking country. But that does not mean we should give up. In fact, we must push harder. We must fight with every fiber against the hatred that we witnessed so easily metastasize to murder and genocide just a few decades ago. We must fight to keep our promise among each generation: never again.