Politics & Government

‘We will never forget.’ NC lawmakers pass bill requiring schools to teach the Holocaust

Angela Merkel visits site of Dachau concentration camp

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a first visit to the Dachau concentration camp by a sitting chancellor, spoke to Holocaust survivors and emphasized the importance of learning from Germany’s past.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a first visit to the Dachau concentration camp by a sitting chancellor, spoke to Holocaust survivors and emphasized the importance of learning from Germany’s past.

North Carolina lawmakers recalled their sobering memories of touring Nazi concentration camps before the state House unanimously voted Tuesday to require public school students to be taught about the Holocaust.

House Bill 437 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. Supporters of the legislation say it’s needed because some people still deny that the Nazis killed millions of Jews, Roma and other people they considered to be undesirable.

“From the bottom of my heart, I ask you to please support this bill,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Union County Republican and one of the bill’s primary sponsors. “It is important for us and for our children and for our children’s children so that we will never forget.”

The “Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act” now goes to the state Senate. Abramson was a Polish-born Holocaust survivor who relocated to Raleigh and shared her experiences with students around the state before she died in 2011.

The legislation has been heavily promoted by the Jewish community, including the N.C. Council on the Holocaust. Similar efforts are occurring in other states to require that schools teach about the Holocaust.

Several legislators recalled visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany.

“I saw the showers where people were gassed,” said Rep. Ted Davis, a New Hanover County Republican. “I saw the furnaces where people were burned. I will never forget that for the rest of my life.

“If that education is given to the youth of today, I think they’ll take a whole different view of the horrors that can happen when people intimidate, harass, pick on and abuse others.”

The bill received no opposition from lawmakers. But some legislators said Tuesday that students should also learn about what happened to African-American slaves and Native Americans.

“I do have a part of our history that I just want to make sure we never forget and that’s the first genocide and that was the massacre of American Indians many years ago who were just standing for their rights to protect their land, protect their villages,” said Rep. Charles Graham, a Robeson County Democrat.

“So let’s not forget that part of our history as well.”

Rep. Carla Cunningham, a Mecklenburg County Democrat, said she hopes the new class will include what happened to the slaves who were brought to America.

“There was also an African American holocaust that happened way in the 1700s and the 1500s when the slaves were put into the bowels of the boats and they were hung by chains,” Cunningham said. “They were led on top of each other inside the boats.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.
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