Education Politics

Kentucky students would be required to learn about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide under a bill making its way through the state Capitol.

Rep. Mark Hart, a Republican from Falmouth and one of the bill’s sponsors, said the measure will help Kentuckians learn from mistakes made in history “so we as a society and as a human race don’t repeat what has happened in the past.”

“If we don’t teach it, it could be repeated,” he said.

The bill was considered by the state House Education Committee on Tuesday as an outspoken Holocaust denier is drawing national headlines as he nears nomination to become the Republican nominee for a Chicago-area congressional district.

The state legislature already passed a law in 2008 instructing the Kentucky Department of Education to develop a Holocaust curriculum for public schools, but it is not required to be taught.

Under House Bill 128, Kentucky middle schools and high schools would be required to teach students about the Holocaust and other acts of genocide recognized by the United Nations.

The legislation was pushed by a group of students from Louisville catholic school St. Francis of Assisi, led by Fred Gross, a Holocaust survivor and teacher.

“I’ve spoken to school children for the past 25 years, invited by teachers who took it upon themselves to teach the Holocaust to imbue in their students the need to stand up against hate and prejudice and bigotry,” Gross said.

An estimated 6 million Jewish people died during the Holocaust led by Nazi Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

Rep. Reginald Meeks, a Democrat from Louisville, said the bill should be expanded to teach students about the genocide of Native Americans at the hands of white settlers.

“We live in a state that every day we walk on the grounds, we’re walking on lands that were native lands — lands that hold the souls of our ancestors,” said Meeks, who has Native American ancestors. “Every time a building is built or a road is made, we are touching our own history.”

Rep. Attica Scott, a Democrat from Louisville, compared the deportation of Jews during the Holocaust to deportation of illegal immigrants in the modern-day United States.

“When I think about the deportations that helped to lead to the Holocaust, yet we’re talking about deportations and tearing apart families and asking about peoples’ immigration status,” Scott said.

The legislation passed out of the House Education Committee on Tuesday and will now be considered by the full House.

The Kentucky Historical Society has several interviews with Kentuckians who survived the Holocaust.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.