Recently the state legislature passed a law requiring Holocaust education in Wisconsin public schools. This was extremely important not just for the Jewish community but for everyone. It will highlight how vigilant we, as a society, must be to make sure that these horrific acts in World War II are never repeated.
As a retired public school and religious school teacher, I understand first-hand how educating children not just about the causes of the Holocaust but how to prevent something like this from ever happening again is vital to our future and democracy.
Unfortunately, I have had conversations with adults who have failed to understand the significance of the Holocaust. For example, an award-winning high school English teacher complained to me that too much attention is given to the Holocaust. She went further that she knew the real reason this is being required – insinuating that Jews have too much power. She didn’t know I was Jewish and had family members that died in the Holocaust and some that survived the Holocaust. That comment, while shocking on one level, was not surprising due to antisemitic misconceptions. Educating children about the Holocaust is a defense against hatred of all kinds.
What is also so striking and needs to be known is the lack of knowledge our state legislators have about the Holocaust. In the July issue of the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle, an article appeared about three current legislators, including a comparison of vaccine requirements to “Germany back in the ‘40s.” Another legislator referred to “Germany” in opposing gun restrictions. These types of comments, continually made, diminish the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust.
After reading another article about this same topic that appeared in the June 15, 2021, edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel I contacted my state representative, Dan Knodl. I called his office requesting his viewpoint about this important issue. I inquired as I felt it was important for the community to know his response to these types of comments and if he didn’t agree, would he speak up to the other legislators who made these irresponsible comments. My contact information was taken, and I was told he would get back to me. I was never contacted. I then sent an email requesting a response. Once again, he never responded to my questions. Knowing the importance of this issue, I again called and left a voice message but still no response.
I hope to help Dan Knodl understand how destructive such ideas and language used about the Holocaust can be offensive and perpetuate false equivalencies. I further hope that he will take his role as a political leader to confront such irresponsible language. In fact, one of the lessons of the Holocaust is the dangers that happen when people remain silent. I am disappointed that he didn’t contact me and work to stop the spread of hurtful comparisons made by fellow legislators.
As an elected alderman for the 4th district of the City of Mequon, I understand that my language and actions are impactful to not just my district, but to the community as a whole. I try to be thoughtful, listen, and respond to those who want my view as well to take a stand.
I think our state elected leaders would benefit from learning about the horrors of the Holocaust as well as doing all in their power to support the expression, “Never Again.”
Jeffrey Hansher is a 4th district alderman in Mequon.