Bipartisan bill to mandate Holocaust, genocide education receives public hearing

OLYMPIA – On Wednesday, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee heard a bill to mandate public schools offer Holocaust and genocide education.

Senate Bill 5851 was introduced by Sens. Jesse Salomon (D-Shoreline) and John Braun (R-Centralia), who both testified at the hearing.

“For me and many in the Jewish community, this is not just an academic matter. This is an intimate and deeply personal matter that has affected our families. My grandparents barely survived the Holocaust,” Salomon said. “We know that ignorance of history leads to repetition of history.”

Current law on Holocaust education directs educators to teach students that, in addition to six million Jews, millions of others were killed in the Nazi death camps, including political opponents, LGBTQ citizens, and Romani people.

The bill also strongly recommends schools offer at least one Holocaust and genocide standalone elective and designates April as International Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month.

The Washington Education Association, the largest representative of public-school employees in Washington state, testified in support of the bill.

“[Teaching students about the Holocaust is] a way of providing insight into how inhumanity of this magnitude develops so that there can never again be a doubt about what can happen when people fail to condemn hatred or bigotry,” said WEA representative Simone Boe. “We encourage educator training about other examples of genocide and crimes against humanity, so they can readily incorporate the teaching when the topics align.”

During the hearing, many citizens shared their personal family histories and spoke about the importance of teaching about the many genocides that have happened throughout the world, such as the Bosnian and Darfur genocides.

“The Nazis began their murderous reign by targeting political opponents. In our current time, when political discourse is as dehumanizing and vitriolic as ever, this bipartisan bill is an effort to come together to restore democratic norms and protect our democracy,” Salomon said. “It’s clear that people feel we have a lot to gain from teaching our children about the Holocaust, its causes, and its lessons. Not just to defend against increasing antisemitism, but to come together as a society and resist the hatred of any group that leads, inevitably, to a tragic conclusion.”

You can watch the testimony on the bill here and track its progress here.