(The Center Square) – Senate Bill 5851 to strengthen Holocaust education in Washington state public schools elicited emotional testimony from one lawmaker during Wednesday morning’s hearing before the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

“This builds upon a bill we passed in 2019 that directed the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the Holocaust Museum [for Humanity in Seattle] to create a curriculum that teaches about the atrocities of the Holocaust,” explained Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, who prefiled SB 5851 in December before the start of the legislative session.

The Senate Republican leader thinks it’s necessary to mandate public K-12 schools teach the curriculum on the Holocaust, the genocide of European Jews during World War II.

“A recent survey of all 50 states shows there is a real gap in understanding what really happened during the Holocaust,” he said. "Sixty-three percent of millennials and Gen-Z didn’t know that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.”

Bill co-sponsor Sen. Jesse Salomon, D-Shoreline, tearfully spoke about how his family was impacted by the Holocaust.

“This is not just an academic matter. This is an intimate and deeply personal matter that has affected our families,” Salomon noted as he cried. “My family barely survived the Holocaust.”

He went on to explain the horror endured by his grandparents.

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“My grandparents somehow got out, but their lives were shattered and rebuilt,” Saloman said. “As a schoolgirl girl, my grandmother had black hair and all her compatriots had blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was singled out by her teacher who told her ‘I like you and we thought you were good people, but our leader [Adolf Hitler] says that Jews are evil so I guess you’re evil.’”

That comment was made in front of the whole class, he stated.

“I’m lucky to be here today,” he said, “and it’s a bit of a miracle.”

In an oblique reference to the terrorist group Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel that resulted in some 1,200 dead Israelis, he added, “I’d like to say this kind of behavior is in the past, but it’s not.”

Public testimony included an Issaquah School District high schooler, Cammie Allen, who told lawmakers, “Of all the learning I’ve had throughout my education so far, the most impactful has, without a doubt, been the teachings of the Holocaust and other genocides.”

She continued, “I strongly believe that the absence of this teaching only leads to more ignorance and in the end, to the downfall of humanity.”

Concerned citizen Ingrid Steppic told the committee, “Growing up, we lived in the Netherlands; my parents found hiding places for about 40 Jewish people, and almost all of them survived.”

“But my parents paid a price; my father was imprisoned in Dachau , and my sister was 17 when she was arrested and put in prison.”

Steppic added, “We as a nation need to learn from our history, and the only way we can learn is by being taught, taught in schools, and passing this lesson on to the next generation.”

Several people testified as “other” regarding the bill. Each of them raised concerns about ensuring that incidents of genocide in other parts of the world are included in the curriculum.

“I am originally from Sudan, and me and my family were attacked,” Yasir Zaidan, who lives in Seattle, testified.

He went on to say, “There was ethnic cleansing in Darfur and it is very important for the people of Washington to know and remember the Holocaust and genocide, so I would appreciate it if an amendment is added to the bill to include the Darfur genocide.”

Others testified, urging lawmakers to include teaching about genocide in Cambodia, Myanmar and Bosnia.

Members of the committee ensured concerned citizens that the curriculum would include education about atrocities beyond the Holocaust.

The Washington Education Association has come out in support of the bill.

SB 5851 would require districts to include Holocaust education in the curriculum by the 2027-28 school year.

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