Democratic Oregon Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation on Monday requiring Holocaust education to be included as part of the state’s public school curriculum.
“Now more than ever we must empower our children with knowledge so together we can stomp out the growing hate in our country,” Brown wrote on Twitter. “Proud to sign the Holocaust education bill today, mandating Oregon schools to teach our kids about genocide so this history is never forgotten or ignored.”
Oregon’s Senate Bill 664 was inspired by Alter Wiener, a Holocaust survivor who spent three years in Nazi concentration camps, reported Oregon Live. Wiener was well-known locally for his lectures on the Holocaust, as well as for his published autobiography “From a Name to a Number,” but was killed in December 2018 after he was struck by a car.
Claire Sarnowski, a 13-year-old Oregon resident at the time, introduced the bill to state legislators as an homage to Wiener, whom she befriended after she heard him speak about his experience in the Nazi concentration camps.
“Alter’s dream was to mandate education which would continue the legacy of the Holocaust and genocides,” Sarnowski said during her public testimony. “Although he is not here with me today, he prepared me to carry on this mission and to persevere in making this a reality … we need to ensure these atrocities are never forgotten nor ignored.”
Beginning in the 2020-2021 academic year, SB 664 mandates that Oregon public schools teach lessons explaining “how the Holocaust contributed to the need for the term ‘genocide’” and to “develop students’ respect for cultural diversity.”
After Brown signed the bill, Oregon became the eleventh state to require Holocaust education in schools, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
The legislation comes amid a historic rise in hate crimes against Jewish communities in America. There were nearly 1,900 recorded attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions in 2018, making it the third-highest year on record since the ADL began tracking anti-Semitic attacks in the 1970s.
A study conducted by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany in April 2018 found that two-thirds of American millennials were unable to identify the word “Auschwitz” – 41% of total respondents were unable to identify it as a concentration camp or extermination camp.
The same study found that 22% of American millennials either had not heard of the Holocaust or were unsure if they had heard of it.
“Learning about genocide teaches students the ramification that comes with prejudice of any kind in society,” Sarnowski said.
Coincidentally, the Department of Justice convened on Monday to host a summit on combating anti-Semitism.
“Of course, it is one thing for the nation to pull together in condemning anti-Semitism when confronted by front-page stories about horrific shootings, as in Pittsburgh and Poway,” Attorney General William Barr said during the summit. “But far too often Jews and Jewish communities in America suffer outside the spotlight.”