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NY governor signs bill that sets standards for Holocaust education in schools in the presence of survivors

State officials will conduct a survey about Holocaust instruction in schools, as levels of ignorance and anti-Semitism remain high, according to polls

Governor Kathy Hochul signs legislation to support and honor Holocaust survivors at Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York, Aug. 10, 2022. (Photo: Lev Radin/Sipa USA)

New York State is making new efforts in the fight against rising anti-Semitism and ignorance about the Holocaust. 

New legislation signed by N.Y. Governor Kathy Hochul last week will set school standards for teaching about the Nazi-led genocide of Jews.

The bill requires state officials to examine and monitor the level of Holocaust education in school districts and report back to the New York State Education Department within a year. Schools that do not teach children properly about the Holocaust and its historical context will be required to adjust their curriculum and methods, in accordance with a 1994 state law. 

Israel’s consul general in New York, Ambassador Asaf Zamir, welcomed the bill, saying that “knowledge of the largest-scale operation of persecution and genocide is waning, and hate has risen unchecked for too long. Protecting our history is important to the survival of not only every group targeted by genocidal fascism, but to sustaining the health of democracy itself.”

New York is one of 23 states in the U.S. that has mandated Holocaust education in public schools. Nevertheless, polls show that ignorance in the field is widespread.

One 2020 study found that 63% of young Americans and 60% of New Yorkers did not know that 6 million Jews were murdered under Nazi Germany. Furthermore, 19% of New Yorkers believed Jews caused the Holocaust. 

Among young New Yorkers, 34% thought that the Holocaust was exaggerated or a myth. 58% could not name a single concentration camp and 43% had never heard about the Auschwitz death camp.

New York earned some of the worst scores in the survey, despite having the largest Jewish population in the United States. Alaska, Delaware and Maryland also performed poorly with regard to knowledge about the Holocaust.

The governor signed the education legislation on Wednesday in the presence of Holocaust survivors at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. 

“As New Yorkers, we are united in our solemn commitment to Holocaust survivors: We will never forget,” Hochul said. “These are individuals who have endured unspeakable tragedy but nonetheless have persevered to build lives of meaning and purpose right here in New York. We owe it to them, their families and the 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust, to honor their memories and ensure future generations understand the horrors of this era.”  

The governor has signed two additional bills related to the Holocaust. 

One requires museums to disclose the origins of artworks stolen under the Nazi regime. The second aims to ease financial stress for Holocaust survivors by publicizing banks that voluntarily waive wire fees for Holocaust reparation payments. 

Tal Heinrich is a senior correspondent for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS. She is currently based in New York City. Tal also provides reports and analysis for Israeli Hebrew media Channel 14 News.

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