SAN ANTONIO – This year, Texas became the 13th state in the nation to adopt some form of mandatory Holocaust remembrance education in public schools.
The bill was written and filed by state Sen. Jose Menendez, who represents the San Antonio area. It was unanimously approved by both the state Senate and House.
"As a state to stake a claim, this is important. There's no partisanship in this. Very few things pass unanimously in Texas," Menendez said.
The question is, "What happens now?"
First, let's go back to what sparked the idea for the bill. It all started when Menendez heard a group of four women on the radio. One was a teacher, and three were daughters of Holocaust survivors.
"What I heard was something that shocked me. These statistics of millennials that don't either know that the Holocaust existed or how it came about or how Hitler came to power," Menendez said.
The Schoen Consulting firm was independently asked to conduct a study in 2018. The firm conducted 1,350 interviews with American adults age 18 and older and found:
66% of millennials don't know what Auschwitz was
41% believe that 2 million or fewer Jews were murdered in the Holocaust (when in reality more than 6 million were killed)
The study also found that 52% of all Americans believe Adolf Hitler came to power through force.
Menendez worked with the already existing Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to write a bill mandating a Holocaust Remembrance Week in all Texas public schools.
Gov. Greg Abbott has already made the declaration, expecting school districts to implement it this coming school year while giving them flexibility.
"Schools, you're still independent. We want you to know we have resources for you. Come to us so you can get appropriate resources, but the policymakers are still letting the schools at the local level make a decision because we didn't want to give them an unfunded mandate," Menendez said.
Menendez hopes funding will soon be made available to help schools strengthen their Holocaust education programs.
Either way, materials used for that Holocaust education must be developed or approved by the Holocaust and Genocide Commission.
"We're saying, 'You can ask them, and they have stuff already on their website. They have education materials.' Or you can say, 'We're thinking about doing this. What do you think? We were thinking about taking the kids to the Holocaust museum,'" Menendez explained.
He then quoted the bill, which clearly explains the ultimate purpose behind the new mandate.
"To quote, 'Educate students about the Holocaust and inspire in students a sense of responsibility to recognize and uphold human value and to prevent future atrocities,'" he said.
Congregation Agudas Achim is hosting Menendez on Sunday for a public event to celebrate the bill passing and explain what will happen moving forward.
The event is at 10 a.m. and is open to the public. The synagogue is located at 16550 Huebner Road. Staff members are requesting people RSVP by calling 210-479-2689.