Senator Jose Menendez, Synagogue Members Discuss Holocaust Remembrance Week

State Sen. Jose Menendez/Facebook
Sen. Jose Menendez, D-San Antonio, joined members of the Jewish community Sunday morning to discuss the importance of Holocaust Remembrance Week, which will be integrated into the Texas public school curriculum beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.

Gov. Greg Abbott signed SB 1828 into law earlier this month, mandating that public schools spend a week learning about the Holocaust. Local synagogue Agudas Achim hosted Menendez, who authored the bill, and the four women who wrote it.

Menendez said he worked with the women and they got the bill to pass unanimously "because we made it too hard to say no." Menendez was the first lawmaker to assist the women with their bill.

"I don’t understand how you could talk to other legislators and they wouldn’t say, 'Of course we’ll do this.' It makes no sense to me," Menendez said. "This is a human issue, it’s one of the worst atrocities, if not the worst atrocity in the history of mankind."

The four women who wrote the bill are Sharon Greenwald, Varda Ratner, Ginny Wind and Lisa Barry. All but Barry are children of Holocaust survivors.

"Although the three of us are children of survivors, of Jewish survivors, Lisa is not Jewish. The reason I point that out, is that this isn't a Jewish issue,” Ratner told KENS5. “It's a human issue. In fact, anyone can end up targeted."

They call themselves "Four Ladies in a Car," inspired by their time driving to Austin to win support from lawmakers. Menendez offered to support their cause after hearing a story about them on TPR.

"They were pushing something, I just happened to hear it and I said, 'Of course we need to do that,'" Menendez said. "I am just the appropriate person in the appropriate spot at the right time to take their good idea and their hard work and take it to Austin."

A video taken by Rhonda Fink-Whitman shows American college students at elite institutions giving outlandishly wrong answers to questions about the Holocaust. Fink-Whitman also worked to get similar legislation passed in Pennsylvania. After viewing the video, the women felt spurred to action.

"After I watched the video, I wanted to make Holocaust education mandatory in Texas," Wind said. "I believe that learning about the Holocaust and the lessons that come along with it, such as tolerance, is important to pass on to our youth of today."

The video follows a larger national trend of public ignorance and misinformation about basic facts of the Holocaust and WWII. A March 2018 study by Schoen Consulting shows that 22% of millennials in the U.S. said they are not sure whether they've even heard of the Holocaust. Another 35% of millennials said they're "not sure" what Auschwitz is.

Jeffrey Abraham, the senior rabbi at Agudas Achim, said Holocaust education has slipped through the cracks because there was never anyone to advocate for it until now.

"Everyone always thinks someone else is going to do it for you, which is really the story of what happened in the Holocaust," Abraham said. "They thought someone else will deal with it, and then no one other than Hitler rose to be at a point where he had ultimate power. I think the key is having people who are willing to champion it and willing to advocate for it."

Texas is the 12th state to mandate Holocaust education, following California, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Kentucky and Oregon.

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