New Legislation & Interview Video Expose the Need for Holocaust Education in Texas Schools

July 15, 2019 - San Antonio

Article By: Lindsay Summerville & Huey Boulet - Writers, SA Sentinel

It’s a normal gag, asking basic questions to people on the street. If they don’t know the answer or better yet have an embarrassingly wrong answer, we get to feel a bit better about ourselves while losing a bit of faith in humanity. “Who was the first President of the United States?” or “What is the Bill of Rights?” An adult not knowing these two basic examples won’t stop the next generation from learning these facts, as we have schools to educate the populace on these two facts. But what if the questions asked weren't just basic American trivia history questions but instead about one of the defining atrocities of the last century?

Sheriff Salazar listens intently. (Photo by  William Timmerman .)

Sheriff Salazar listens intently. (Photo by William Timmerman.)

It hurts your head a bit, watching people fumble these answers about such a horrific period of history, but when college students don’t have answers about the Holocaust that should not only hurt our heads, but our hearts as well. Unfortunately, this ‘what if’ scenario is all too real, as author and daughter of a Holocaust survivor Rhonda Whitman found out by asking these very questions of Pennsylvania college students whose state does not have mandatory Holocaust history education. The video taken by Whitman shows students having issues with every question asked, from basic to intermediate difficulty, clearly showing the cracks in the education system that failed these students in a very tangible way.

With this problem permeating our current educational climate, organizations have made the effort to teach kids about the Holocaust. One local example is the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio, which provides tours of the museum for both public and private schools, as well as provides curriculums and teaching materials for educators. A handful of San Antonio’s Holocaust survivors are also available to provide their testimonies, but despite these efforts by nonprofit groups, large swathes of the population remain uneducated about one of the worst atrocities in humanity’s history as it is not a mandatory subject to study in Texas.

Senator Menéndez readies for a photo. (Photo by  William Timmerman .)

Senator Menéndez readies for a photo. (Photo by William Timmerman.)

In an attempt to usher in a new era of knowledge and understanding, Sharon Greenwald, Varda Ratner, Ginny Wind, and Lisa Barry became determined to do something about this discrepancy. The women, who referred to themselves as the “Four Ladies in the Car,” were successful in catching the attention of Texas Senator José Menéndez through an interview on Texas Public Radio. Inspired by their determination and reasoning, Menéndez reached out to them and offered to spearhead the bill in the state senate, and through a unaminous vote, Texas is now the 12th state to pass legislation enacting a Holocaust Rememberance Week in our public schools.

On a still to be determined week in the upcoming school year, students will be given time and age appropriate material to learn the important lessons of the Holocaust and, to quote the bill itself, “to recognize human value and to prevent future atrocities.” The Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission will approve all curriculums to ensure accuracy and uniformity, so children and teenagers in both cities and in the rural areas of Texas have the same standard and level of understanding of the subject.

This legislation passed without a single nay vote and was spurred by the moving testimony of a survivor who had an obvious impact on everyone's face, leaving not a dry eye in the room. Now, with similar teaching moments available to those growing up, hopefully the next generation of college bound Texas students will ace the type of questions that Whitman asked in her video. Beyond the educational aspect, however, the highest hope we can have is for future generations to gain empathy and understanding for the lives lost and forever changed by hatred, and to debunk the rampant misinformation spread by hate groups on the internet and beyond.