Proposed legislation aims to enhance Holocaust education in Washington state

During Wednesday morning’s hearing before the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee, Senate Bill 5851, aimed at enhancing Holocaust education in Washington state public schools, sparked an outpouring of emotional testimony from one lawmaker.

According to Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the recently proposed bill, SB 5851, is an extension of a previous legislation passed in 2019. The earlier bill had directed the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Holocaust Museum in Seattle to develop a curriculum that educates students about the horrors of the Holocaust. Sen. Braun prefiled SB 5851 before the start of the current legislative session in December.

According to the Senate Republican leader, it is essential to require public K-12 schools to include the Holocaust curriculum, which focuses on the genocide of European Jews during World War II.

According to a recent survey of all 50 states, there appears to be a significant lack of understanding about the Holocaust. The survey revealed that 63% of millennials and Gen-Z individuals were unaware that 6 million Jews were murdered during this tragic event. This highlights a concerning gap in knowledge regarding one of the most devastating periods in history.

During the discussion, Senator Jesse Salomon, a co-sponsor of the bill and a representative from Shoreline, emotionally shared his personal connection to the Holocaust, revealing the profound impact it had on his own family.

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Salomon emotionally expressed, “This is not just an academic matter. It is an intimate and deeply personal matter that has affected our families. My family, who barely survived the Holocaust, can attest to this.”

He proceeded to recount the harrowing experiences his grandparents endured.

He stated that the comment was made in front of the whole class.

“I consider myself incredibly fortunate to be standing here today,” he expressed, with a hint of awe in his voice. “In fact, I would even go as far as calling it a small miracle.”

He remarked that he cannot claim that this kind of behavior is a thing of the past, referring indirectly to the recent attack by the terrorist group Hamas on Israel, which caused the death of approximately 1,200 Israelis.

During the public testimony, lawmakers had the opportunity to hear from Cammie Allen, a high school student from the Issaquah School District. In her powerful statement, she expressed that the most influential learning experience she has had in her education thus far has been the teachings about the Holocaust and other genocides.

She expressed her strong belief that the lack of this education ultimately contributes to greater ignorance and, ultimately, the decline of humanity.

Ingrid Steppic, a concerned citizen, shared her personal experience with the committee, stating, “During my childhood in the Netherlands, my parents courageously provided hiding places for approximately 40 Jewish individuals, and thankfully, the vast majority of them were able to survive.”

“But my parents paid a price for their bravery. My father experienced the horrors of imprisonment in Dachau, a place that held so much suffering and despair. The injustice extended to my sister as well, who was only 17 years old when she was arrested and thrown into prison. Their sacrifices serve as a testament to their unwavering commitment to justice and freedom.”

“We must learn from our history as a nation. The only way to achieve this is through education in schools and by passing on these lessons to the next generation,” Steppic emphasized.

Yasir Zaidan, a resident of Seattle, testified that he and his family were attacked. Originally from Sudan, he shared the harrowing experience during his testimony.

Several individuals gave testimony, urging lawmakers to incorporate education about the genocides in Cambodia, Myanmar, and Bosnia.

The committee members reassured concerned citizens that the curriculum would encompass education on atrocities beyond the Holocaust.

The bill has received support from the Washington Education Association.

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