Bevin signs Holocaust Education Act

Fred Whittaker (center), flanked by Linda Klein and Fred Gross, pose for photos at the state Capitol on March 21, after the Senate passed the Ann Klein and Fred Gross Holocaust Education Act. Also pictured are Sen Max Wise (extreme left) chairman of the Senate Committee on Education, and Reps. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) and John Carney (R-Campbellsville). Marzian and Carney were co-sponsors of the act. (Community photo by Lee Chottiner)

FRANKFORT, Ky. – Gov. Matt Bevin has apparently signed the Ann Klein and Fred Gross Holocaust Education Act, officially mandating instruction of the Holocaust and other acts of genocide in Kentucky’s public schools.
According to a summary from the online state database Bill Watch, Bevin signed it into law on Monday, April 2. The Governor’s press office has not yet replied to the paper’s request for confirmation.
A second ceremonial signing could be scheduled at a later date.
The state Senate passed the bill by 37-0 vote on March 21 and sent it to the governor for his signature. The House had passed it earlier with one representative voting against.
Kentucky joins New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Florida, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and California as states that require some measure of Holocaust and genocide education.
The state already has a curriculum in place, thanks to a law passed years earlier that encourages such instruction.
Under the act, each public middle and high school in the state must include in its curriculum instruction on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide, as defined by the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. It further states that a genocide must be determined by “a court of competent jurisdiction” to have been committed.
Since approximately 10,000 Jews live in Kentucky, mostly in Louisville and Lexington, it wasn’t the political clout of the community that got the bill passed, but the work of many non-Jews who believed in the cause.
Fred Whittaker, a science and religion teacher of Holocaust studies at St. Francis of Assisi School in Louisville – a Catholic middle school – has been lobbying for mandatory Holocaust instruction for 13 years. He even involved his students in the process, bringing them to Frankfort to testify before House and Senate committees on how Holocaust instruction has affected their lives.
Other St. Francis parents and students have worked the phones and social media and stood on the capitol steps with signs in what became a full-court press for passage.
“Every year, there’s been some sort of activity where we have tried make legislators aware, the community aware, our peers aware,” Whittaker said. “Awareness has been the main battle in between the efforts that we have made in the legislature.”
With the bill’s passage, Whittaker, who will travel to Poland this summer on a Classrooms Without Borders seminar to see the death camps and walk through the Warsaw Ghetto, hopes to influence Holocaust education here.
“Today marks both an ending of one particular kind of effort and of course the beginning of another kind of effort,” he said. “We really hope to be able impact not just what is taught, but how it’s taught.
“Our idea wasn’t to make an army of historians,” he added, “our idea was to make a collection of students throughout the commonwealth who have incredibly good hearts and understood that courage is compassion and power means mercy and kindness.”
Fred Gross, a Holocaust survivor and one of the namesakes for the legislation, and Linda Klein, daughter of the late Ann Klein, the other namesake, were on the floor when the vote was taken and received a standing ovation from the senators.
“I think it’s another beginning,” the 81-year-old Gross said, echoing Whittaker’s point. “It gives me the ability to gather my strength to continue to tell my story.”
A former newspaper reporter, Gross wrote a memoir of his Holocaust experiences. One senator read aloud a passage from the book prior to the vote.
Linda Klein said her mother would have been proud that Holocaust education will now be required statewide.
“She would have just been completely honored and happy about this important moment.”
Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, a longtime sponsor of the bill, said it brought Democrats and Republicans together in an otherwise politically contentious climate.
“It was a bipartisan effort, and it’s a bill we can feel really good about,” she said, “and in an atmosphere that’s not so healthy to be in.”


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