By Stacey Dresner
HARTFORD – Earlier this year news reports about Arthur Jones, a white supremicist and Holocaust denier who is running as a Republican in an Illinois congressional race, were met with incredulity.
How could a man who calls the murder of six million Jews “an international extortion racket” be taken seriously in his run for office?
But Michael Bloom, executive director of the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut (JFACT), says such denial is more common than we may think.
At the BBYO’s Winter Kallah Convention in Hartford in January, Bloom, a guest speaker, was alarmed at what he heard from one young Jewish teen.
“I led a breakout session to talk about my work at JFACT, and in the course of that discussion one of the teens said he had heard other students say that the Holocaust didn’t happen,” Bloom recalled.
It became clear that students need to be better educated about the Holocaust. To accomplish that, there is now a push to make sure that students in Connecticut schools learn about the Holocaust.
The Connecticut General Asssembly’s Education Committee has raised “An Act Concerning the Inclusion of Holocaust and Genocide Education and Awareness in the Social Studies Curriculum.”
The goal of the act, not yet a bill, is to mandate that the Holocaust as well as other genocides be taught in all Connecticut schools. The public will be able to testify on the act at a public hearing to be held on Wednesday, March 14 at 11 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Bloom said that JFACT is asking members of the local Jewish community to tell their own stories during the hearing.
“Between many survivors, unfortunately, not being around in the next five to 10 years, and kids seeing this kind of denial, I want both ends of the spectrum to tesify and everyone in between for that matter to testify or at least submit testimony about why it is so inportant to teach kids about the Holocaust, genocides in general and where hate can lead,” he said.
Five states already mandate Holocaust and genocide education in their schools – California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York and Florida.
Just last week, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a bill mandating Holocaust and genocide education in Michigan high schools. Rhode Island’s general assembly recently passed a similar bill and is waiting for Gov. Gina Raimondo to sign it into law.
Bloom said that although JFACT has lobbied in past years for the Connecticut legislature to mandate such education, the state has only suggested guidelines encouraging schools to teach about the Holocaust and genocide.
But supporters argue that much more is needed in light of the Anti-Defamation League’s annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, released late last month.
According to the ADL, antisemitic acts nationwide grew 60 percent from 2016 to 2017. In that same time, antisemitic acts reported in Connecticut numbered 49 in 2017, up from 38 in 2016.
Alarmingly, antisemitic incidents in schools are on the rise.
“The consistent increase of antisemitic incidents against students of all ages is deeply troubling,” said Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the ADL’s CEO and national director.
The act was proposed by state senators and chairs of the education committee Toni Boucher of Wilton and Gayle Slossberg of Milford, and State Rep. Andrew Flesichmann of West Hartford, the house chair of the education committee.
“Acts of antisemitism are continuing, and it seems that there’s an awful lack of knowledge about just how serious what happened during the Holocaust was,” Boucher told the Ledger. “All of this really brought to mind that we have to do something more.”
“I am proud to support legislation to ensure that all Connecticut high school students learn about the Holocaust and genocide more broadly,” Fleischmann added. “In this age of increasing acts of bigotry and antisemitism, it is critical we ensure that Connecticut’s young people learn about the genocidal crimes of the Nazis – and the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia and the Hutus in Rwanda – so that we can help prevent such horrors in the future.”