What’s happening with Holocaust education?

Child survivors of Auschwitz concentration camp stand together after being freed by the Red Army. (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum via Creative Commons)

Amid rising anti-Semitism, teachers, lawmakers and Jewish leaders are taking a closer look at Holocaust education. They’re advocating for meaningful classroom discussions on genocidal violence and amplifying the stories of Holocaust survivors.

Since 2018, Oregon, Connecticut and Kentucky have passed laws mandating lessons on this historical event. Such classes were already required in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island.

Other states, including Washington and Pennsylvania, “strongly encourage” Holocaust education or fund a Holocaust education commission.  

However, these laws aren’t universally liked. Some legislators bristle at interfering with lesson plans. Research has shown that even students who learned about the Holocaust in school are often confused about how many Jews it affected or how it began.

In some states, Holocaust education bills pass unanimously. Elsewhere, including in North Carolina, Maryland and Massachusetts this year, they stall in committee.

This edition of ReligionLink investigates recent trends related to Holocaust education, highlighting 25 experts on the topic who can help you cover it.

Background reading

U.S. sources

  • Michael Abramson

    Michael Abramson is chairman of the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust, which provides teacher workshops aimed at improving Holocaust education. His mother was a Holocaust survivor.

  • Judy Altmann

    Judy Altmann is a Holocaust survivor who often speaks about her experience in schools. She was arrested in Czechoslovakia in 1944 and imprisoned at Auschwitz concentration camp and Essen and Gelsenkirchen labor camps.

  • Rachel Baum

    Rachel Baum is deputy director of the Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, where she also teaches courses on the Holocaust, contemporary American Jewish identity and Jewish feminism. Additionally, she co-directs the Stephen Weinstein Holocaust Symposium, an international gathering of Holocaust scholars.

  • Jennifer Ciardelli

    Jennifer Ciardelli directs the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s leadership programs division, which provides educational resources for members of the military, judges, law enforcement officers and other leaders. She was previously a high school social studies teacher. Arrange an interview with Ciardelli through Raymund Flandez.

  • Sarah Cushman

    Sarah Cushman directs the Holocaust Education Foundation of Northwestern University, which supports and trains college-level educators interested in teaching about the Holocaust.

  • Debórah Dwork

    Debórah Dwork is a senior research scholar with the Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University in Worcester, Mass. She is an expert on Holocaust history and education.

  • Elizabeth Edelstein

    Elizabeth Edelstein is the vice president of education at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City. The museum recently partnered with the New York City Department of Education to design Holocaust resources for teachers.

  • Lindsay Friedman

    Lindsay Friedman is the managing director of Echoes & Reflections, which works to improve Holocaust education in schools. 

  • Steven Hodas

    Steven Hodas is the vice president of education for the Anti-Defamation League.

  • Craig Horn

    Craig Horn is a Republican member of the North Carolina General Assembly. He is one of the primary sponsors of a 2019 bill that would mandate Holocaust education in schools.

  • Ilana Cone Kennedy

    Ilana Cone Kennedy is the director of education for the Holocaust Center for Humanity in Seattle, which facilitates Holocaust education through teacher training and community programs.

  • Carolyn B. Maloney

    Carolyn B. Maloney is a Democratic congresswoman from New York. She sponsored a bill offering paid leave to federal workers, which passed in December 2019. She’s also sponsoring the “Never Again Education Act,” which aims to improve Holocaust education nationwide. Arrange an interview with Maloney through Jennifer Bell.

  • Symone Sass

    Symone Sass coordinates the Meal Partners Program for Jewish Federation & Family Services of Orange County. The program organizes meals between Holocaust survivors and volunteers to reduce isolation and broaden survivors’ support systems.

  • Alan J. Singer

    Alan J. Singer is a professor of teaching, learning and technology at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. He previously taught social studies in New York City and has studied how teachers address the Holocaust in the classroom.

  • Karen Small

    Karen Small is the managing director of the Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life at Rutgers University. She oversees the school’s Holocaust Resource Center and helps lead training programs for educators.

  • Alan Steinweis

    Alan Steinweis is a professor of history and Holocaust studies at the University of Vermont. He directs the school’s Center for Holocaust Studies and is an expert on the history of Nazi Germany.

  • Kori Street

    Kori Street is the senior director of programs and operations for the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education at the University of Southern California. She specializes in the use of Holocaust survivor testimonies in the classroom and has served on international and national committees on Holocaust remembrance and research. Arrange an interview through Rob Kuznia.

  • Rob Wagner

    Rob Wagner is a Democratic state senator in Oregon who co-sponsored a 2019 bill mandating Holocaust education in the state’s public and private high schools. The bill passed and will take effect in the fall of 2020.

  • Meredith Weisel

    Meredith Weisel is the director of Maryland government and community relations for the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. She’s argued that Holocaust education would reduce anti-Semitic incidents in schools.

  • Fred Whittaker

    Fred Whittaker teaches at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic School in Louisville, Ky. He advocated for state-mandated Holocaust education for more than a decade before legislators followed his advice and passed a new law in 2018.

International sources

  • Sue Breeze

    Sue Breeze leads the Middle East and Asia team in the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She previously worked on freedom of religion or belief, anti-Semitism and post-Holocaust issues.

  • Jenny Carson

    Jenny Carson is an education officer working on teacher training at the Holocaust Educational Trust. Her organization works to ensure children understand the Holocaust and successfully advocated for the Holocaust to be added to the United Kingdom’s national curriculum for history.

    Contact: +44 020 7222 6822.
  • Stuart Foster

    Stuart Foster is executive director of the Centre for Holocaust Education at University College London. He led the center’s large-scale investigation into what students in the United Kingdom know about the Holocaust.

  • Philipp Mittnik

    Philipp Mittnik is a professor of education at the University of Vienna. He has studied how the Holocaust is taught in Austrian schools.

  • Avner Shalev

    Avner Shalev leads Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center, in Jerusalem.

    Contact: +972 2 6443400.

Related research

Resources for educators