Oregon House votes to require schools to teach about the Holocaust

Senate Bill 664 hears to governor's desk

By Jamie Ehrlich, CNN
Drew Angerer/Getty Images

(CNN) - Lawmakers in the Oregon House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that would require schools to teach students about genocide and the atrocities committed during the Holocaust.

Senate Bill 664 now heads to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's desk for her signature. The measure was inspired by holocaust survivor Alter Wiener, who spent three years in concentration camps, including the infamous Nazi-run Auschwitz in Poland. Wiener was killed in a traffic accident in December.

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"Alter's dream was to mandate education which would continue the legacy of the Holocaust and genocides," 13-year-old Claire Sarnowski, who first brought forward the legislation at the encouragement of Wiener, said in public testimony, according to a news release from the Oregon House Democrats. "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."

The push for Holocaust education in schools has expanded in recent years as the United States has seen a rise in anti-Semitic violent attacks, with two deadly synagogue attacks occurring within months. According to the Anti Defamation League, as of February, 11 states have developed laws mandating Holocaust education and other states have recommended including Holocaust education themes in school curricula.

On the federal level, New York Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney, a Democrat, and Elise Stefanik, a Republican, introduced federal legislation in January that would create a grant program to provide teachers across the US with resources to teach about the Holocaust in their classrooms. The bill has not yet had a vote on the floor of the House of Representatives.

Holocaust remembrance has fallen, especially in younger generations. A 2018 survey from The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that 22% of millennials "haven't heard" or "are not sure if they have heard" of the Holocaust.

The survey also found that 31% of all Americans believe that 2 million Jews or fewer were killed during the Holocaust, when the actual numbers state that about 6 million Jews were put to death.

Oregon, however, may start to see that percentage decrease, as the Oregon Department of Education helps implement programs across the state.

"As we lose our lived history from that era, it becomes even more important to have Holocaust and genocide education in our classrooms," state Rep. Janeen Sollman, a sponsor of the legislation, said in the statement. "This bill is about keeping history alive."

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