MILWAUKEE - Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill on Wednesday requiring Wisconsin middle and high school social studies classes to teach the Holocaust and other genocides.
Wisconsin joins 17 other states that require Holocaust education, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. An 18th state, Arkansas, has a law taking effect next year.
"This bill will affect generations of kids in our state and bring increased awareness, and recognition in our schools to the tragedies of the Holocaust, the pervasiveness of anti-Semitism to this day, and hopefully cultivate a generation that is more compassionate, more empathetic and more inclusive," Evers said.
Under the new law, public schools, charter schools and private schools in the voucher program must include instruction on the Holocaust and other genocides at least once between fifth and eighth grade and once in high school.
"It will grow, and it will expand, and frankly, in this moment as a country when we’re struggling with all sorts of issues of hate and anxiety, it will be a touchstone," said Governor Evers.
The law requires the state superintendent to include the Holocaust and other genocides in model academic standards for social studies and to develop model lessons and materials on the subject for teachers. Creating that must be done in consultation with a state agency in another state that has developed such standards.
"51% of college students across America don’t know what the Holocaust was," said Moshe Katz with the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. "That’s a powerful statement. There are very few schools in the state of Wisconsin that are actually teaching the Holocaust."
The Milwaukee Jewish Federation's Holocaust Education Resource Center will provide the materials, programming, and professional development necessary to implement the new requirement at no additional cost to schools, said the bill's sponsor, Sen. Albert Darling, a Republican from River Hills.
Evers, a former state superintendent, signed the bill at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
"The history and lessons of the Holocaust are being lost," Darling said in a statement. "Future generations must be taught about what happened to make sure it never happens again."
For Eva Zaret, who survived the Holocaust, the moment seemed surreal.
"That was an act of love. For the Senate, and the legislators, and everybody -- 100% approval, unanimously voted, that’s an act of love and kindness, and it will make Wisconsin an even better place to be," said Zaret. "I love Wisconsin."
Zaret said the signing shows the state came together -- if even for a moment -- to champion love through education.
"It puts a smile on my face that Wisconsin will have this education, so when I die, I will die with a smile on my face that I did something – a little bit something," said Zaret.
As Zaret noted, the bipartisan measure passed the Legislature unanimously. No one registered against it and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the state teachers union, registered in support.
Supporters testified that they are troubled with how many younger people are unaware of the scope of the genocide that occurred during World War II, in which the Nazis killed more than 6 million Jews in Europe.
Backers also pointed to a study released by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation last year that found antisemitic incidents increased 55% between 2018 and 2019 and more than tripled since 2015.
While the Holocaust and other genocides are taught in many Wisconsin schools, the new law will ensure there is continuity and consistency in instruction, supporters say.
In Massachusetts, lawmakers this year renewed a push for mandatory genocide education after a high school football coach was fired following reports that the team used antisemitic language, including a mention of Auschwitz, in its on-field play calling.