A resolution calling for Holocaust education in Utah schools has passed the House and Senate and was signed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
The resolution calls for every local education agency to teach students about the Holocaust with age-appropriate materials. It says that learning about the state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jews and five million other individuals by the Nazis is important for helping students understand the root causes and ramification of racism and discrimination.
“It is essential to provide students with knowledge of the Holocaust and other genocides to help them make informed choices as citizens and to help root out despicable acts of hatred, anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice,” reads the resolution.
It says teachers should be given professional learning opportunities with evidence-based teaching practices and resources to help them teach students about the Holocaust.
The resolution does not create a legal requirement for schools to teach about the genocide, but Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, the resolution’s sponsor, told The Salt Lake Tribune that the State Board of Education is working to fulfill the resolution’s requests.
Vickers said he was asked to sponsor the resolution by retired House Representative Patrice Arent, who is Jewish. Arent had spearheaded the same resolution last year with Vickers as her Senate sponsor, but it wasn’t passed before the legislative session ended. Vickers said he was glad to help when she asked him to try again this year.
Vickers, whose father was a World War II veteran, said he has read a lot of books about the Holocaust and has visited the DC memorial museum four times. He said he is concerned that the Holocaust is starting to leave public memory. As Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans pass away, society is losing those personal memories of what happened.
“(We are) starting to hear people say ‘well I don’t think that ever happened,’” he said.
His concerns are shared by Rabbi Samuel Spector of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City.
Spector said that with disinformation on the internet and Holocaust denial, fewer young people understand what happened.
He said there are children in Utah who have been given false information about the Holocaust. The mother of a pre-teen boy in Utah County, who was not Jewish, asked Spector to help educate her son about the Holocaust after the child came home and told her he had learned that Jewish people got to go to “summer camp” during World War II. Spector said the child didn’t believe his mother when she told him they were actually sent to labor camps and death camps.
Jewish children in the state have been subjected to anti-Semitic taunts that have to do with the Holocaust, said Spector. He said some of the kids who did the taunting have said they didn’t realize how hurtful their words were because they didn’t really understand the Holocaust.
Spector said he is grateful to the members of the legislature and the Governor for passing the resolution.
Utah Rabbi Avremi Zippel said it is “providential” that Cox signed the resolution on Thursday, since Thursday evening marked the beginning of the Jewish holiday Purim.
“Like many of our holidays, it’s a holiday dedicated to Jewish people surviving persecution,” he said. “(The resolution) is very timely on Purim.”
He said that as years go on, the Holocaust is less and less connected to society. He said the state resolution is important for ensuring the Holocaust isn’t forgotten.