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Holocaust study more important than ever

Three babies born at Mauthausen Concentration Camp in the final days of World War II are the Holocaust’s youngest survivors. Today, they are 70. Older survivors — those who remember — are dwindling in number. On Tuesday, one of those survivors, who became a spy for France working against the Nazis, will speak at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. She will turn 99 in March.

One day, there will be no one left to describe what happened. That’s why it is essential to continue to teach the history of one of the world’s worst genocides in our schools.

A survey last year indicated more than one-fifth of Millennials in the United States — 22 percent — had not heard of, or weren’t sure they had heard of the Holocaust, and two-thirds did not know about Auschwitz, the largest of the concentration camps.

In the words of the philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A bill before the Oregon Legislature would require public high schools to teach about the Holocaust — and other genocides in world history. If enacted, the Genocide Curriculum would be part of the state’s graduation requirement of three years of social studies.

Leading the push for Senate Bill 664 is Sen. Rob Wagner, D-Tualatin. Wagner was approached by Claire Sarnowski, a Lakeridge High School freshman, who had befriended Holocaust survivor Alter Wiener after hearing him speak at her elementary school. Wiener, 92, was 13 when the Nazis murdered his father in Poland, and 15 when he was sent to a forced labor camp. Wiener died in December when he was struck by a car while crossing a road.

SB 664 would require schools to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides beginning in 2020, with the state Education Department providing technical assistance to local districts.

Some Oregon districts include the Holocaust in history classes, or leave it up to individual teachers, but there is no statewide mandate, as there is in 10 other states.

Tuesday’s lecture at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 26, in the SOU Music Recital Hall, features Marthe Cohn, who joined the French Army in 1944 after her fiance was executed by the Nazis for his resistance work. She used her blonde hair, blue eyes and perfect German to infiltrate enemy lines posing as a nurse seeking information about her missing fiance.

Advance tickets are recommended; see www.ChabadofAshland.org/HolocaustSpeaker or call 541-482-2778.