State Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams is looking forward to reintroducing a bill requiring the teaching of the Holocaust and genocide in public school classrooms.
The original bill was unveiled in May, which turned out to be too late to be passed by the Senate and House of Representatives and signed by the governor by the end of the 2011-12 session. A new two-year session started earlier this month, and Williams said he once again will push for passage of the bill. He is hopeful of its chances.
“There’s interest from Republicans and Democrats,” he said.
Williams recently visited the Ephraim Goldstein Apartments, at 12003 Bustleton Ave. in Somerton, to discuss the merits of his legislation and to urge residents to write to Gov. Tom Corbett on behalf of his measure.
Williams represents the 8th Senatorial District, which includes areas of South and Southwest Philadelphia and Delaware County. He ran for governor in 2010 and is widely expected to seek the Democratic mayoral nomination in 2015.
Among those who joined him at his visit were former mayoral candidate Marty Weinberg; Donald Wittenberg, curator of the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, located in the Klein JCC Branch, 10100 Jamison Ave.; Lenny Neil Friedman, a Rhawnhurst resident who produces Holocaust survivor documentaries; Klara Vinokur, a Holocaust activist who survived gunfire in the former Soviet Union; Rabbi Solomon Isaacson; and attorney Marina Kats. Williams addressed the crowd of senior citizens in English, and translator Larisa Narita repeated his comments in Russian.
The legislator mentioned that some American university professors have challenged whether the Holocaust and other genocides actually have taken place. In parts of Europe, anti-Semitic writings and sayings are prevalent.
“That should be troubling to all of us,” he said.
Williams, who is black, said he is particularly interested in the subject of the Holocaust because his ancestors were enslaved.
“There’s a common bond between oppressed people,” he said.
As for his legislation, he guesses that many students are unaware of the Holocaust and even more would be shocked that the actions were sanctioned by the German government.
“What they know is very limited,” he said.
As for today, he believes students and others would be shocked that the government of the African nation of Sudan for years has engaged in destroying property and killing its own citizens.
“People say it can’t happen, but it does happen,” he said.
In general, Williams said the instruction would encourage students to respect all people. Rabbi Isaacson endorsed the legislation, noting that some people question the Holocaust even though there are living survivors of the mass killings. In another quarter-century or so, he added, there will be no more living survivors.
“It’s very critical that the children of today know what happened,” he said.
Williams introduced Senate Bill 1523 on May 18 at the Holocaust Awareness Museum. He wants young people to know of the horrors of places like Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan.
The new bill will mirror that one. It would require public schools to teach students in sixth through 12th grades about Nazi atrocities committed from 1933-45, genocide, human rights violations, anti-Semitism, racism and the abridgement of civil rights.
State Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170th dist.) introduced similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
The state Department of Education would develop a model curriculum to be used by schools. The instruction would be integrated within the social studies and language arts courses. It would allow for training and instruction programs for teachers.
New Jersey, New York, Florida, Illinois and California require the teaching of the Holocaust, according to the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. ••