NY law will survey schools on Holocaust history
New York is launching a survey to ensure all public schools are adequately teaching about the Holocaust, according to a new law signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul Wednesday.
With antisemitism on the rise across the country, it’s imperative that the horrors of the Holocaust, which saw six million Jews murdered by Nazi forces between the 1930s and 1940s, are not forgotten, Hochul said at a news conference in New York City.
“We need to teach people when they’re still young,” she said. “There is no place for hate in our state, especially antisemitism or hate of any kind. And when it starts here, we all have a role to play in eradicating it.”
The law, which takes effect immediately, requires the survey to be conducted by the state Department of Education, which would identify which school districts provide instruction on the Holocaust and ascertain whether those districts are meeting the Holocaust learning standards required in New York, according to the text of the new law.
New York would dispatch a “corrective action plan” to schools that do not respond to the survey or don’t affirmatively attest that they’re instructing on the Holocaust in conjunction with current state law.
The state Education Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment on when the survey would begin, or what a corrective action plan might entail for schools that do not cooperate. New York has required schools to teach on the Holocaust since 1994, but that was nearly 30 years ago, and Holocaust knowledge among young people is slipping, Hochul said.
A 50-state survey published in 2020 found that 63% of people ages 18 to 39 (Millennials and Gen Z) did not know that six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and nearly half could not name a single concentration camp or ghetto, according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
New York’s new survey will direct the Education Department to “ask the question, what are (schools) really doing?” Hochul said. “Are you sure this is penetrating the minds of our young people? Because that is our best hope to stop the radicalization, or the penetration of their hearts with hate.”
While it’s important to get a statewide handle on what exactly is taught about the Holocaust in New York’s schools, there’s no state curriculum or funding for schools to make it happen, said Millie Jasper, executive director of the Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center in Westchester County.
“The object of this bill is to reassess what is taught,” she said. “Then there can be other steps, like giving teachers the tools they need to teach the Holocaust effectively.”
The Holocaust & Human Rights Education Center is a nonprofit that for over three decades has trained educators on how to teach about the Holocaust and its lessons regarding human rights.
“I can promise you that students in Westchester County are taught about the Holocaust in the proper context,” Jasper said.
Hochul also signed into law several other bills concerning artwork stolen by Nazi forces during World War II, and the waiving of financial fees related to reparations for Holocaust survivors, many of whom live in poverty.
The first measure would require New York museums to acknowledge and disclose the origins of a piece of art that may have been stolen from European owners, primarily Jews, during the Nazi era. About 600,000 paintings owned by Jewish people were looted by Nazi forces during the war.
A second law would direct the state Department of Financial Services to publish and annually update a list of financial institutions that voluntarily waive wire transfer fees and other processing fees associated with Holocaust reparation payments. About a third of U.S. Holocaust survivors live in poverty, the law’s text noted.
The financial fees may seem insignificant, but they can add up to a substantial amount, especially for those who rely on the payments for their daily needs, said Assemblymember Simcha Eichenstein, D-Brooklyn.
“This simple and sensible legislation will ensure that thousands of Holocaust survivors are able to receive their rightful payments without getting hit with corporate transaction fees,” he said.
“They have lived through unspeakable horror, but instead of succumbing to grief and sadness, they rose from the ashes. Now, it is our obligation to protect them, honor them and ensure their well-being.”
Includes reporting from The Journal News/Lohud.com reporter Gary Stern.