The state Senate approved the Holocaust education bill on a voice vote Tuesday, after a year of delay because of the pandemic. It appears on track to become law.
“We could see action on the bill by the full Assembly in the next few weeks,” said Michael Blumenfeld, executive director of the Wisconsin Jewish Conference, a government affairs office.
The bill would mandate Holocaust education in Wisconsin middle schools and high schools. The bill comes at a time when, according to recent research, Americans are sorely uninformed on the Holocaust and antisemitism is growing.
Last year, the bill passed unanimously in the state Assembly but didn’t make it to consideration in the full Senate during that legislative session because of the onset of the pandemic. Under Legislature rules, the state Assembly must now pass the bill again before it can be signed by the governor into law. By all accounts, the bill has strong bipartisan support.
The bill would require that the state superintendent consult with an organization in the state that provides Holocaust education programs – the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, is an indisputable leader on this in Wisconsin. Commonly called “HERC,” the program has been working to ready itself to assist the state’s educators, according to its director, Samantha Abramson.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) wrote the bill after a HERC representative approached her with the idea.
“Unfortunately, we are losing voices of first-hand accounts of Holocaust survivors,” Darling said in a statement. “This bill will help make sure those voices are preserved forever and the important lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”
Rep. Lisa Subeck is one of three Wisconsin Jewish legislators and serves on the board of the National Association of Jewish Legislators. The Democrat represents a district on the west side of Madison.
“I remember interviewing Holocaust survivors when I was a teenager as part of a youth group project. While their stories of survival were nothing short of heroic, they also told of the tragic loss of entire families and entire communities killed in the concentration camps,” Subeck said. “Children today will likely never meet a Holocaust survivor and hear their stories firsthand, so it is incumbent upon us to ensure this history is never repeated.”
Sixteen states currently require Holocaust education, and legislation is pending in several others, according to Subek. The legislator pointed out in a statement that HERC has made a commitment to the state to provide materials and support at no additional cost to schools.
“As a teacher, I have witnessed in my own classrooms how the best antidote against hate is knowledge and understanding, especially at an early age,” said Rep. Deb Andraca, a Democrat representing much of the Milwaukee area’s north shore in the Assembly. “This bill is not a cure, but my hope is that initiatives like this one will help students become more aware of our past and empower them to work towards a better future for us all.”