MADISON — Legislation aimed at educating Wisconsin students about the Holocaust is getting another shot at becoming state law.
The Holocaust Education Bill was introduced in January 2020 to wide support, but its path to passage was disrupted when both houses of the Legislature adjourned their sessions in March due to the pandemic.
Now the legislation, which would require all public, charter and voucher schools to teach middle and high school students about the Holocaust, is being reintroduced.
The bill was recirculated among members of the state Legislature for review in January of this year.
Addressing a need
Sen. Alberta Darling, a Republican, introduced this and last year’s bill. Darling said she knew she wanted to be a part of the effort as soon as Bev Greenberg, a longtime supporter of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, asked for her help.
“I visited one of the death camps in Europe once, and when I saw the boots and clothes of the children it was just like a stab in the heart. When Bev Greenberg asked if I could sponsor the bill, it was just something I knew I had to do,” the River Hills resident said.
Darling said she was also prompted to sponsor the bill after learning about recent studies showing a dearth of knowledge about the Holocaust among many millennials.
A 50-state survey on Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Gen Z commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany last year reportedly found that 63 percent of survey respondents did not know 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.
“I just think it is very important for people to know what happened, and this will give us a chance to make sure older Wisconsin children are educated about the Holocaust,” Darling said. “Last time (the bill) passed out of both committees and it passed unanimously in the Assembly.”
The measure, which has already received bipartisan support, comes at a time when symbols of hate and white supremacy have resurfaced in America. Several of the rioters who stormed the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6 had connections to Neo-Nazi organizations.
As Darling and her colleagues work to get the Holocaust Education Bill passed into law, HERC Executive Director Samantha Abramson and her coworkers have been putting the final touches on a website designed to help teachers educate their students about the Holocaust.
Called the Holocaust Education Map, Abramson describes the website as a “thematically organized toolbox of lesson plans,” where teachers can go to find lessons about the Holocaust or Nazi Germany in general.
It’s fashioned with specific social studies standards in mind, so educators can search for lessons based on the amount time they have or the topic they wish to cover.
The site is still in a testing phase right now, but Abramson said she expects it to be ready for the general public by the first half of this year.
“As we have seen the legislation for this mandate move along, we have been preparing to address the needs of all the educators and the students who are going to be impacted by the bill,” Abramson said. “This legislation is something that HERC has really been hoping for because we value the lessons that the Holocaust can teach us — the lessons we hope will make society better for everyone, and ultimately prevent another Holocaust.”