Legislature urged to require Holocaust education in Pa.

Drive to collect 6 million pennies for memorial

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HARRISBURG -- Holocaust survivors and their advocates on Monday urged state lawmakers to require the teaching of Pennsylvania students about the systematic Nazi extermination of the Jews of Europe, as well as other genocides.

Legislators are considering versions of proposals on Holocaust education -- the state House has approved legislation that would leave the topic optional, though require the Department of Education to establish curriculum guidelines on the topic. A Senate committee amended the bill so as to require education on the topic.

Trudy Klein-Gompers, who left Vienna with her family at 18 months of age, days before the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom, came to the Capitol from her home in Montgomery County on Monday, recognized as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She asked lawmakers to require that Pennsylvania students learn about the Holocaust.

"It affected our whole lives," she said of her family, who she said traveled to London and was interned on the Isle of Man. "When we don't trust each other, it causes wars, simply put, and that's why it's important for me to go out and speak to children. It's important for me to go out and let them know that we're all unique, we're all special and if we embrace one another we'll all win."

Also on Monday, in a news conference at The Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh, the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh and the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio announced that they are teaming up to collect 6 million pennies from residents of Lawrence, Mercer and Allegheny counties.

Put together, the pennies will help give people a sense of the horror of the Holocaust, which extinguished 6 million Jewish lives.

"The Holocaust was clearly humanity's darkest hour," said Joy Braunstein, executive director of the Holocaust Center. "There are clear reasons to remember the people who died, just to remember them."

It is also important to spread awareness of the Holocaust to keep other genocides from happening, she said, to remind ourselves to "keep looking at people as people."

In April, the pennies will be packed into brick-sized boxes stacked around four cement columns in the lobby of the Warhol Museum. With each box containing $25 worth of pennies, 2,400 of them will be needed.

The $60,000 will be donated to several organizations, including the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum in Israel. Some will be used by the Holocaust Center for educational programs.

To gather the pennies, the Holocaust Center will distribute collection boxes to local high schools and stores. The boxes are painted black and decorated only with the symbols that Nazis used to identify Jews, homosexuals, political prisoners and other groups in concentration camps.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day celebrates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.

On the weekend of April 26, the Warhol Museum will host activities commemorating the Holocaust, including educational exhibits and a play based on firsthand accounts of survivors. That weekend marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, in which Jews fought against Nazi persecution.

The effort to fully mandate Holocaust education faces opposition in the House, according to Republican spokesman Steve Miskin, who said many members do not want to impose an unfunded requirement on schools. The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, opposes the mandate version of the bill for the same reason.

A proposal under development by House Republicans would leave Holocaust education optional, but require the Department of Education to conduct a study in three years of which schools are incorporating the material, Mr. Miskin said.

Five states -- New York, New Jersey, Florida, Illinois and California -- require teaching of the Holocaust in schools, according to Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Philadelphia, who has sponsored legislation to mandate the topic.

Karen Langley: klangley@post-gazette.com, 1-717-787-2141 or on Twitter @karen_langley. Richard Webner: rwebner@post-gazette.com or 412-263-4903.


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