On Aug. 19, Gov. Doug Ducey formally signed Arizona House Bill 2241, making it mandatory for Arizona schools to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides at least twice between seventh and twelfth grades.
For the past year, in anticipation of this legislation, the Jewish History Museum & Holocaust History Center has been working with four Museum Teaching Fellows (MTF) from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum on middle and high school lesson plans using survivor testimony in the JHM’s collection. Funding for the Curriculum Project is through the Jewish Community Foundation of Southern Arizona (JCF) and other donors.
The JHM will debut the new curricula with a free online teacher event, “Teaching the Holocaust: Spotlight on Southern Arizona Survivors,” on Wednesday, October 27 from 4-7 p.m. During the program, participating teachers will receive a virtual tour of the museum; access to lessons built on topics and assets from the museum, including demonstrations of a few of the lessons; and a session with a local Holocaust survivor.
“Teachers all over the state (and beyond) can apply these lessons before or after visiting the museum with students, while using the museum’s website, or to teach about the Holocaust in general,” says Kim Klett, an English teacher at Dobson High School in Mesa, Arizona, who leads the MTF team.
The team also includes Carrie Olson, Ph.D., president of the Denver Public Schools board, whose 32-year teaching career spanned elementary, middle, and high school; Jennifer Goss, a high school social studies teacher in Staunton, Virginia; and Kelly Watson, a junior high school English teacher in Fishers, Indiana.
The lessons will be posted on the JHM and Arizona Department of Education websites in late October.
The new law is the culmination of a three-year effort to make Holocaust education mandatory in Arizona, says Sheryl Bronkesh, president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association, one of several organizations instrumental in supporting the legislation.
After working with Holocaust survivors to craft the bill, State Rep. Alma Hernandez of Tucson first introduced it in early 2020. On Jan. 27, 2020, four Holocaust survivors now living in Tucson, Pawel Lichter, Theresa Dulgov, Sidney Finkel, and Wanda Wolosky, along with Sharon Glassberg, a clinical therapist and wellness and support specialist at Jewish Family & Children’s Services of Southern Arizona, testified before the Arizona House of Representatives education committee. Survivors from the Phoenix area also testified, but the bill stalled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In October 2020, the Arizona Board of Education adopted two rules requiring instruction in the Holocaust and other genocides in grade seven or eight and in high school. In January 2021, Hernandez reintroduced HB2241, which passed in the House unanimously in February and received a vote of 27-2 from the Senate in June.
The legislation comes amid concerns that many Americans, particularly the younger generations, are not familiar with key facts about the Holocaust. In 2020, the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany released a study on Holocaust awareness in the U.S. It found that 45% of all Americans cannot name a single concentration camp and 41% of millennials believe that far fewer than 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. On a more encouraging note, however, 93% of the survey respondents believe all students should learn more about the Holocaust in school.
Phyllis Braun is Communications Manager of the Jewish History Museum & Holocaust History Center.