Rhode Island steps up on Holocaust and genocide education

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As Jews, many of us can still feel the pain and agony that our families suffered during the Holocaust.

We know of the hatred, the bullying, the beatings they endured. We can imagine how they felt as they marched to death camps or packed into rail cars. Our muscles ache from just thinking of the hard labor imposed on them while they were virtually starving to death. We can only think of what it must have been like to be imprisoned and later put to death in a gas chamber or by a single bullet.

We would not wish what happened to our families on anyone. Yet atrocities continue to happen today. More often than not, we are not even aware they are happening,

In 2015, R.I. Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law a bill requiring middle and high school students to study the Holocaust and other genocides. Rhode Island was only the eighth state to implement such a law for its public schools.

This year, to support educating students about these atrocities, Gov. Dan McKee signed a bill to create a commission to oversee Holocaust and genocide education in our state.

Prior to the creation of the commission, called the Rhode Island Coalition on Holocaust and Genocide Education, a group of dedicated volunteers worked diligently with the R.I. Department of Education to provide educators with resources to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides.

The commission will provide accountability and credibility to educators and the Rhode Island community. It will also establish a means to disseminate information and materials on the Holocaust and genocides to schools and the community.

What makes Rhode Island’s law stand out from others is that the commission will be responsible for implementing an annual Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Month every April. Educators will have the school year to prepare and educate students on the subject, and can focus every April on emphasizing its importance. This is an outstanding way to promote statewide interaction and discussion about the horrors of genocide.

Education is not an overnight fix to stop future genocides. It is a steppingstone. Students will learn what hate, bigotry and bias based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation can produce.

We need more than the words “Never Again” to help  end this madness. Education is a significant element to bring an end to hate, bullying and racism.

As President Joe Biden said on April 24, 2021, when acknowledging the Armenian Genocide:

“Today, as we mourn what was lost, let us also turn our eyes to the future – toward the world that we wish to build for our children.

“A world unstained by the daily evils of bigotry and intolerance, where human rights are respected, and where all people are able to pursue their lives in dignity and security. Let us renew our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world. And let us pursue healing and reconciliation for all the people of the world.”

MARTY COOPER, of North Kingstown, is chair of the R.I. Coalition on Holocaust and Genocide Education.