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Bill would establish Holocaust, genocide commission to educate, memorialize

Special to the Legal News

Published: October 16, 2020

Unlikely to secure a hearing before conclusion of the current legislative session, a bill championed by a northeast Ohio senator seeks to fill gaps in curricula that give short shrift or no attention at all to the Holocaust and, more generally, genocide.
Sen. Michael Rulli of Salem introduced legislation last week to create the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial and Education Commission in an effort to cultivate knowledge and understanding of one of the most tragic occurrences in the world’s history.
The lawmaker said he was compelled to draft the bill, which is filed as Senate Bill 372, after reading a study that ranked Ohio 32nd in Holocaust knowledge among millennials and subsequent generations.
“Given the heightened tensions in our nation, I believe now more than ever we need to help educate the next generations about how horrors like the Holocaust can be perpetrated by even the most civilized and sophisticated people,” Rulli said in a press release. “We know that simply pledging to never forget is not enough as sadly, genocide continues to this day.
“My hope is that Ohio’s youth will become enlightened as a result of this legislation to avoid such atrocities from ever happening again.”
The commission would be responsible for gathering and disseminating Holocaust and genocide information throughout the state; advising and educating the governor, general assembly and departments and agencies on Holocaust and genocide memorial and education; and reviewing and approving grants.
SB 372 defines the terms Holocaust and genocide. The former means the systematic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of approximately 6 million Jews by the Nazi regime and its allies and collaborators; the definition also recognizes other victims of the Nazi regime.
The latter is an internationally recognized crime in which the following acts are committed against a national, ethnic, racial or religious group’s members with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the group:
• killing;
• causing serious bodily or mental harm;
• deliberately inflicting life conditions calculated to bring about physical destruction, in whole or in part;
• imposing measures intended to prevent birth;
• forcibly transferring a group’s children to another group.
The latter is a blanket term for related crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and mass killing, according to the legislation.
A representative of the Youngstown Area Jewish Federation lauded Rulli’s efforts in proposing the bill.
“Our federation places a high degree of importance on Holocaust educational initiatives,” said Bonnie Deutsch Burdman, executive director of the group. “We work diligently to get firsthand knowledge of the Holocaust into area schools. But with Ohio ranking 32nd in the nation on Holocaust knowledge, there’s clearly more work to do.”
Burdman said organizations such as the federation may partner with educators to make sure they have the tools and skills they need to convey such history to their students.
“We know that simply pledging to never forget is not enough as sadly, genocide continues to this day,” Nancy & David Wolf Holocaust & Humanity Center CEO Sarah Weiss said. “The Holocaust & Humanity Center’s mission of ensuring the lessons of the Holocaust inspire action today is aligned with the goals of the (proposed) commission, and we look forward to leveraging our resources in support of its work.”
According to the legislation, the commission is to comprise two appointed members from the majority and minority parties from both the Ohio Senate and House of Representatives, eight appointed members by the governor, the superintendent of public instruction, the chancellor of higher education and the director of veterans services.
SB 372, which had not been referred to a committee at time of publication, has cosponsor support of 17 fellow senators.
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