The entrance to the Birkenau Concentration Camp in Auschwitz, Poland.

The entrance to the Birkenau Concentration Camp in Auschwitz, Poland. Credit: Getty Images/David Clapp

In 1994, the New York State Legislature made it mandatory that Holocaust education be taught in public schools. However, over the past 28 years the mandate has solely been words on paper. With no way to measure compliance and no way to know what is being taught, how can lawmakers and the public know whether schools are doing their job and students are walking away from high school with any knowledge about the Holocaust?

Thankfully, outside groups are providing data. A study conducted in 2020 by the Claims Conference found that New York has one of the lowest Holocaust knowledge scores among states: 58% of millennials and post-millennials were unable to name a single concentration camp or ghetto, and 60% of young people were unaware that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.

A bill sponsored by state Assemb. Nily Rozic of Fresh Meadows in Queens and Sen. Anna Kaplan of Great Neck, passed and now awaiting signature by Gov. Kathy Hochul, would require the state Education Department to conduct an audit of whether schools are in compliance with state standards of Holocaust education and publish a report of the findings. This bill will go a long way in raising the amount of Holocaust education in New York.

The Holocaust was the largest genocide in modern history. The Jewish population worldwide is still less than what it was before the Holocaust.

Lessons of the Holocaust are universal, and especially poignant today. The American Jewish Committee's 2021 State of Antisemitism in America report showed that one in four Jewish Americans has experienced antisemitism in the past year, and the numbers are steadily rising year over year. In addition, hate crimes against most ethnic and religious groups are seeing sharp increases as well. Students need to understand how hate, unchecked, can bring out the worst of humanity and can even lead society into genocide.

According to the Anti-Defamation League's pyramid of hate, genocide starts with biased attitudes, such as a specific group within society being perceived as having too much wealth or power. It leads to acts of bias, a microaggression or hate speech, for instance. From there we see systemic discrimination, a society engrossed in hatred for this group, and then bias-motivated violence, a society committing violence against this group, and ultimately genocide.

We cannot and must not let biased attitudes in society be normalized. It is our duty as citizens on Long Island to be upstanders and not bystanders. If you hear a racial, religious, or ethnic slur, or see someone being discriminated against, stand up, say something, and report it to the authorities. After all, law enforcement can only be effective if they have proper information about incidents.

This brings us back to Holocaust education. As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle by the day, the rest of us become increasingly responsible for perpetuating knowledge of the Holocaust. We must teach our children, at an appropriate age, what happened and why it is relevant for them, and us, in 2022.

Now is the time to teach the universal lessons of the Holocaust and proclaim as loud and fervently as we can: Never again.

This guest essay reflects the views of Eric Post, Long Island Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee. 

This guest essay reflects the views of Eric Post, Long Island Regional Director of the American Jewish Committee.