Nebraska Legislature considers requiring education on Holocaust, other genocides

Nebraska Legislature considers requiring education on Holocaust, other genocides
World-Herald News Service

Holocaust education. As a descendant of Holocaust survivors, Ari Kohen learned about genocide at his grandparents’ knees.

But the University of Nebraska-Lincoln political science professor worries that future generations will not be able to hear those kind of personal accounts about the concentration camps, mass slaughter and cruelty that aimed to eliminate a whole group of people.

“People who are able to offer first-hand testimony, we simply will not have them with us much longer,” he said.

Kohen, a board member of Omaha’s Institute of Holocaust Education, joined others Monday in backing legislation that would require education in Nebraska schools about the Holocaust and other instances of genocide around the world.

Legislative Bill 640, introduced by State Sen. Sara Howard of Omaha, would add those lessons to the state-mandated teaching of multicultural education.

Howard said she offered the measure after realizing that students do not always learn about the Holocaust. She cited a national survey that found that two-thirds of young adults could not identify Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp where more than 1 million people were killed. Most of those killed were Jews.

Mark Dreiling, chief of staff for Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb., supported the bill, saying it fits with the congressman’s initiatives to combat anti-Semitism and hate.

“The Holocaust illustrates the ultimate endpoint of where hatred leads,” he said.

But Jack Moles, executive director of the Nebraska Rural Community Schools Association, took a neutral position, saying he would prefer that the Legislature not mandate curriculum.

He also questioned whether the requirement should be added to the multicultural education law, which calls for multicultural elements to be woven throughout the school curriculum.

Howard offered an amendment to eliminate references to specific instances of genocide, other than the Holocaust, because of concerns raised by the Turkish government and local residents from Turkey. She said they objected to the bill naming Armenians as the targets of genocide.

Nationally, concern that young people are not learning the lessons of the Holocaust has sparked interest in bills like LB 640. So far, 11 states require education about the Nazi genocide of 6 million Jews.

Fantasy sports. Nebraska would regulate online fantasy sports contests under a bill advanced from the General Affairs Committee on a 5-2 vote Monday.

LB 137, introduced by Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue, would require contest operators to register with the state, pay a $10,000 initial registration fee and pay renewal fees equal to 6 percent of operator revenues after subtracting payouts to winning players.

Blood argued that the measure would generate money for the state while regulating an activity that is already going on in Nebraska. But Sen. Tom Briese of Albion said he thinks the bill is an endorsement of expanded gambling.

Radon resistance. Newly built homes and workplaces would have to include features designed to reduce radon entry under a bill given first-round approval Monday by the Legislature.

LB 130, introduced by Sen. Wendy DeBoer of Bennington, would apply unless a local building official determined that such steps were not needed for a particular building.

The bill aims to reduce exposure to radon, a naturally occurring radioactive gas that is prevalent in some areas of Nebraska. Radon is the second-leading cause of lung cancer.

The measure advanced on a 35-5 vote. Opponents said the requirements would add to the cost of housing. Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard questioned whether radon was dangerous enough to warrant government regulation, comparing it to global warming.