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Bill Aims To Increase Holocaust Education In Pennsylvania

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, there were as many as 20,000 concentration camps during from 1933 to 1945 — used for forced labor, transit camps and even killing centers for 11 million victims.

But many don’t believe this actually happened, and others just simply never learned about it.

That’s what House Bill 1424 — which just passed the Senate this week — aims to fix.

The legislation directs the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) to prepare and advise on curricula about the Holocaust and other genocides in history, such as those in Rwanda and Darfur.

“After two years of implementation of the program, PDE will be required to conduct a statewide study as to which schools are teaching the curriculum, and which are not,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-Berks). “And it will include recommendations on how to increase the number of schools that are offering this curriculum.”

She said if less than 90 percent of the schools offer the instruction, then the state board of education could require schools to offer the curricula.

The curricula would concentrate on the definition, history, response and actions of the genocides.

Schwank said as an adult, she has had the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust from first person accounts from family and friends, but students won’t be able to do that much longer.

“Today’s generation of students will have so much fewer opportunities to learn from survivors,” Schwank said. “They are passing away quickly, unfortunately, so that door is closing, and we need to address this soon.”

She doesn’t believe that Holocaust deniers are suffering from a lack of education. She said she thinks theirs is more of an issue of anti-Semitism.

However, she does believe that many college students are suffering from a lack of knowledge.

“When you interview college students as one individual in the Philadelphia area had done, and you talk to them about specific incidents in the Holocaust such as Kristallnacht or name some of the concentration camps and they don’t even recognize those names, that’s very disconcerting,” Schwank said.

She hopes if the bill is passed, it will not only increase knowledge about the genocides, but also empathy.

“The point is that students need to know to know about these kinds of events - learn about them and become impressed of the importance of these events — so that as they become adults they recognize as many of us do now that these things should never happen again,” Schwank said. “But we have to be sure to prevent them.”

The legislation was originally set up as a mandate but that could not pass the House.

It is now going back to the House for concurrence.