North Carolina public school students could be required to learn about the Holocaust, when millions of Jews, Roma and other people considered to be undesirable by the Nazis were killed.
The state House Education Committee backed a bill Tuesday that requires the State Board of Education to include instruction of the Holocaust and genocide into the English and social studies standards used in middle schools and high schools. Backers of House Bill 437 say that learning about the Holocaust is essential, especially now that the remaining survivors are dying off.
“The survivors are leaving us and along with their departures, we need to make sure that we live up to the mantra of ‘Never again,’” said Richard Schwartz, vice chairman of the N.C. Council on the Holocaust.
“This bill would help us do that in North Carolina by requiring the teaching of not only the Holocaust, but other genocides and make sure our students are not repeating the most horrible times of our history. We’re doomed to repeat history if we don’t teach it.”
Schwartz told the committee that it’s possible for some students to complete their schooling in North Carolina’s public schools without being taught about the Holocaust because it’s not tested.
The bill, which has bipartisan sponsorship, now goes to the House Rules Committee. It comes at a time when some people still deny that the Holocaust happened.
Rabbi Fred Guttman of Temple Emanuel in Greensboro handed to lawmakers copies of a photo showing the shoes of people who were killed at a concentration camp in Poland. Guttman, a former high school principal who has taught Holocaust studies since 1979, said the Holocaust was “the most organized and systematic factory-like destruction of people in the planet.”
Guttman said 20 other states require teaching of the Holocaust, so North Carolina wouldn’t be alone in making it a requirement for students.
The legislation is called the “Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act.” Abramson was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who relocated to Raleigh. She died in 2011 at the age of 85.
A teenage Abramson worked with the resistance movement in Poland before being captured and sent to several concentration camps, most notably the death camp of Majdanek, according to a 2011 News & Observer article. The article quoted her family saying she was twice pulled out of line at the gas chamber to translate for Germans who didn’t speak Polish.
After her weight dwindled to 42 pounds, Abramson was left for dead by the Germans. She was found by Russians and turned over to Americans in Germany.
Abramson would go on to share her experiences with students at schools around the state.
Her son, Michael Abramson, is chairman of the N.C. Council on the Holocaust.
“It is my belief that when students learn of the hatred and atrocities of the Nazi regime, they will learn the lessons of the Holocaust which we will teach in public schools,” Abramson told the committee. “Those lessons are the value of tolerance, plurality, compassion, inclusion and democracy.”