Surrounded by survivors of one of the worst mass slaughter of humankind, state Sen. Anthony Hardy Williams declared that Pennsylvania children and adults should “never forget,” announcing introduction of Senate Bill 1523.
If enacted, public schools would be required to teach about the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations, as well as anti-Semitism, racism and the abridgment of civil rights to grades 6-12. Williams made the announcement at the Klein JCC Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Northeast Philadelphia.
“There are few times in human history where the division between the human dynamic and its dignity is split between good and evil. Where there’s no difference, no compromise, no other words to describe it but good and evil,” Williams said. “Now in the last several years, I’ve watched people represent history in a significantly distorted way. And we can’t afford that.”
While the mass murder of millions of Jews and other “undesirables” in Nazi Germany constituted one of the worst recorded moments in human history, a strand of Holocaust denial has arisen to pollute the clarity of history. Whether it’s paying deference to the role Jewish people played during civil rights struggles in this country or simply responding to the human spirit, it’s incumbent upon every American to speak out against these distortions, Williams said.
“It’s not free speech,” he said. “It’s contaminated speech.”
And it’s spreading, Williams said, from Europe and now trying to take up residency in the United States. Purveyors of these false views – that the Holocaust is fiction perpetuated by Jews to justify current actions in Israel and elsewhere, as an example – are springing up on college campuses, including in Philadelphia.
Last fall, a group advocating this viewpoint spoke at the University of Pennsylvania as part of its national tour. Prior to that, a visitor to Lincoln University, condemned for offering hate speech, addressed students. In California, students who countered this view were met with scorn and outright violence.
In a globally connected world, not having a true lens or grasp of events in history will prove a disservice to forthcoming generations. Classrooms, filled with impressionable young people, must be protected from those who would spread hateful agendas, Williams argued.
To ignore or dismiss the horrors of Nazi Germany, Bosnia, Rwanda, Sudan or any other modern example is to diminish those lives that were extinguished, and to sow the indifference and misgivings that can allow it to happen again. Therein lies the greatest threat to us all.
“This piece of legislation will not solve all ills,” Williams said. “But it will give students the seeds, and frankly, the power, to push back on hate speech and rhetoric which is untrue. It will take a trained mind into community to help spread peace and celebrate what this country means, to be tolerant of all of us.”
State Rep. Brendan Boyle is introducing a mirror bill in the state House of Representatives.
Editor’s Note: Video of the news conference is available here. Attached please find a photo with a suggested caption below for your use:
Caption: Sen. Anthony H. Williams discusses his legislation on ensuring that students are receiving accurate lessons on the Holocaust, genocide and other human rights violations during a visit to the Klein JCC Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center in Northeast Philadelphia. With him are (left to right) state Rep. Brendan Boyle, Chuck Feldman, president of the Holocaust Museum, and Elaine Culbertson, chair of the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council.