Last week, the state Assembly unanimously passed a bill mandating education about the Holocaust and other genocides in most Wisconsin schools, a month after the Senate approved it.
While Gov. Tony Evers has not yet signed the bill into law, the bill had wide bipartisan support and was introduced by Republicans and Democrats alike.
The Holocaust education bill outlines that at least once from fifth to eighth grade and at least once from ninth to 12th grade, the Holocaust and other genocides must be included in the curriculum for all Wisconsin public schools, independent charter schools and private schools participating in a parental choice program.
Bill co-author Rep. Lisa Subeck, D-Madison, said that the bipartisan support “illustrates the widespread understanding that the best way to counter misinformation is with a solid educational foundation.”
According to Subeck, at least 16 other states require Holocaust education and legislation is moving forward in other states. Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchins recently signed a similar measure.
The bill comes at an important moment, as antisemitic incedents in Wisconsin increased by 36 percent from 2019 to 2020, according to the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Greg Steinberger, the CEO of UW-Madison Hillel, explained that “antisemitism is more prevalent than ever, and we are at risk of going down a very dangerous path if it remains unchecked.”
The Wisconsin Jewish Conference, Holocaust Education Resource Center (HERC) and the Milwaukee Jewish Federation released a statement applauding the passage of the bill. HERC will provide free educational materials and support to schools.
“We teach about the Holocaust not only to recognize the past but to safeguard the future from the horrors of unchecked hatred,” the statement said. “The lessons of the Holocaust need to be passed on to our youth.”
What can be learned by the Holocaust will not only increase awareness around Jewish issues, but for other groups who experience discrimination as well.
“[The bill] also ensures that Wisconsin students will learn about the dangers of not just antisemitism, but uncurbed bigotry of any kind,” Steinberger stated.
By the end of the Holocaust, six million Jewish people, an estimated 200,000 to 800,000 Roma and an unknown amount of gay men were murdered. Recent surveys have shown that the Holocaust is slipping from collective memories, and misinformation is filling the gap.
“Recent studies show that a lot of people hold damaging misconceptions about the Holocaust, such as that the Jews caused it, which doesn’t make sense,” said Mikaela Steckelis, an active member of the UW-Madison Jewish community.
She hopes that teaching about Jewish people will make Jewish students feel more seen and cared for in their schools.
Steckelis also mentioned the lack of consideration for Jewish students from the UW administration. Next year, classes start on the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and one of the holiest holidays for Jewish people.
“We have breaks for Easter and breaks for Christmas, but what about breaks for Rosh Hashanah or Yom Kippur? It feels like it's a very one-way street,” Steckelis said.