Sometimes I feel like we’re living through a season of hate. Between police violence against the Black community, random attacks on Asian-Americans, and violence against Jews across the city — including the recent anti-Semitic attacks on four local synagogues in my community of Riverdale — followed by violence against Jews across the country, it is hard to not feel overwhelmed by this rising tide of contempt.
We do know what works to stem the tide: education. Part of what makes “The Diary of Anne Frank” so compelling is its universality, which is why it is required reading in most public school curriculums. A young girl, hidden with her family to protect themselves against irrational hatred and a national strategy to eliminate her people, has proven to be a story almost everyone can relate to.
The importance of Holocaust education cannot be overstated. It is not just a story about Jews and a highly sophisticated strategy to wipe them from the face of the Earth. It is human history and what happens when a demagogue convinces an entire citizenry that their problems are caused by a group of people who are in some way “foreign.”
Yet, in a first-ever 50-state survey, the Claims Conference recently found a shocking gap in knowledge about the Holocaust in New York state. Americans between the ages of 18 and 39 — millennials and Generation Z — have little or no understanding of what caused the Holocaust, or how and why it occurred.
Three in five don’t know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust. One in three think it was fewer than 2 million.Two in three have seen Nazi symbols in their community or on social media in the last five years.
To combat this ignorance, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic has introduced legislation that would study and improve Holocaust education within the state. It couldn’t come at a better time.
“When study after study delineate embarrassing ignorance and misinformation about the Holocaust, we need to rectify the issue at the source — educational requirements,” Rozic says. “Ensuring that the Holocaust is properly taught in schools coupled with education on recognizing anti-Semitism and other hate crimes, is a crucial first step in stopping dangerous conspiracy theories.”
The bill reviews schools’ compliance with existing Holocaust education requirements, and provides subsequent recommendations to improve curricula based on results. This should be a non-controversial bill as New York state already has a Holocaust education requirement.
In the face of gross ignorance, ensuring compliance with the law and understanding educational gaps is the only logical step.
Recently, Assemblyman Michael Benedetto — who chairs the Assembly’s education committee — tried holding this critical bill in an attempt to have it expire before the end of session. His motion to hold was overturned by a majority of committee members who voted against the chair, as they recognize the importance of the issue.
The survey also showed that four of five millennials think it is important to keep teaching about the Holocaust, so that it does not happen again.
Education is the generational answer to bigotry and hate. New York came out of this survey as one of the states with the “lowest Holocaust knowledge” score.
We have a bill geared toward closing this yawning gap.
Let’s get it passed.