On Feb. 13, ADL Washington D.C. Regional Director Doron F. Ezickson submitted the following written testimony for the record to the Maryland Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee in support of SB 416, Lessons of the Holocaust and Genocide Act, introduced by Maryland State Senator Ben Kramer (D-19). The bill seeks to ensure that schools across the state are teaching students about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide.
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) is pleased to submit this written testimony in support of the Lessons of the Holocaust and Genocide Act, SB 416 (Sen. Kramer). This bill seeks to ensure that schools across the state of Maryland are teaching students about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, based on curricular guidelines established by the State Board of Education.
Since 1913, ADL’s mission has been to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.” Dedicated to combating anti-Semitism, prejudice, and bigotry of all kinds, as well as defending democratic ideals and promoting civil rights, ADL is proud of its leadership role in developing innovative materials, programs, and services that build bridges of communication, understanding, and respect among diverse racial, religious, and ethnic groups.
ADL has a unique and valuable perspective on the importance of Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools. Since 2005, ADL, in partnership with the USC Shoah Foundation and Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem, has trained more than 50,000 educators through the Echoes & Reflections Holocaust education program, which allows teachers to introduce students to the complex themes of the Holocaust and its impact on the world. In total, the program has reached an estimated 5.2 million students across the United States.
ADL has also partnered with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to develop its Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust program (LEAS), an innovative training that examines what can happen when law enforcement personnel do not uphold democratic principles.
The need for Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools could not be more urgent. In 2017 alone, ADL documented a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the country, and a 94 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools. Here in Maryland, ADL recorded 18 anti-Semitic incidents in 2017 where perpetrators specifically evoked the Holocaust as a mode of harassment, vandalism or intimidation.
These incidents did not take place in a vacuum. They come at a time of rising incivility, the emboldening of hate groups, and a resurgence of Holocaust denialism – a challenge that has existed on the fringes for many years, but in recent years has encroached on the mainstream of our politics and discourse. They also come at a time when Holocaust and genocide awareness, particularly among young people, is fading from memory. According to one recent survey, for example, 22 percent of American millennials have either never heard of the Holocaust or are unsure whether they have heard of it. Even fewer Americans, 35 percent, know about the Armenian Genocide.
Soon, the eyewitnesses to the Holocaust and other genocides will no longer be able to tell their own stories, and the responsibility will shift to family members, institutions, educators and individuals to share their narrative and experiences. This context only further underscores the pressing need for Holocaust and genocide education in Maryland schools. Words and actions matter, and it is imperative that our students understand the risks when hatred and bigotry go unchecked.
We have both a unique opportunity and an important obligation to empower a new generation to learn from our past in order to build a stronger and more tolerant society in the future. For these reasons, ADL urges the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee to report out SB 416 favorably. This bill establishes a clear framework and directive for Holocaust and genocide education in K-12 schools, while affording the State Board of Education the autonomy and flexibility to develop curricular guidelines.
We look forward to continuing to serve as a resource in connection with this initiative here in Maryland.
By Doron Ezickson
Doron Ezickson is the ADL’s Washington D.C. regional director.