Photo+by+Chester+Ho+on+Unsplash

Photo by Chester Ho on Unsplash

Students Advocate for Holocaust Survivors & Genocide Awareness

In two powerful letters, students urge Senators to ensure dignity for genocide survivors and help prevent such atrocities from happening again.

January 31, 2020

This week, the world observed the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, where some 900,000 Jewish people were murdered by the Nazis. Today, the need to remember atrocities like the Holocaust and other genocides is more apparent than ever as countries around the world express concern for a purported uptick in anti-Semitic acts and sentiment.

As part of their English class, sophomores at Miss Hall’s School were given the opportunity to write letters of advocacy to Senators in support of new bills that would protect and support survivors of genocide and promote genocide awareness. The bills included The Never Again Federal Education Act (S.2085), which would integrate Holocaust education into school curriculums with the intention of preventing history from repeating itself, and The Holocaust Survivors Act (S.2179), which would provide social service agencies with resources to meet the urgent needs of Holocaust survivors. 

Students were given the liberty to decide which Senator and which bill they would like to advocate for. In the featured letters below, students urge New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D) and Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal (D) to support these important bills, which would ensure dignity for genocide survivors and help prevent such atrocities from happening in the future. 

Attached below are the Letters of Advocacy:

__________________________________________________________________________________

November 7, 2019

 

Senator Richard Blumenthal 

706 Hart Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

 

RE: In support of S.2085 

 

Dear Senator Blumenthal: 

I attend a girls’ high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. I am an international student from Qingdao, China. 

I strongly support S. 2085 because requiring our young generation to confront the hatred of the Holocaust is an essential way to prevent similar events from happening again in the future. 

Having Holocaust and genocide education can reduce anti-Semitic incidents across the country. In recent years, the term “Holocaust” has started to fade away from people’s minds, and more anti-Semitic incidents have emerged in the United States. Based on a study by Schoen Consulting, almost a quarter of Millennials aren’t sure they’ve heard of the Holocaust, and forty-one percent think that fewer than 2 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust (the number is 6 million). An editorial by Judd Olanoff, published in the Boston Globe this October, states, “In Massachusetts, anti-Semitic incidents reached historic highs in 2017 and 2018.” According to the ADL’s (Anti Defamation League) H.E.A.T online map, 319 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Massachusetts from 2017-2019. And Texas has had 122 anti-Semitic incidents from 2016-2019. Lack of knowledge about the Holocaust has indirect repercussions and could be increasing anti-Semitic incidents across the United States. As one of the twelve states that already requires Holocaust education in the secondary school curriculum, Connecticut has the power to encourage more states to mandate this essential education. 

Secondly, the Never Again Education Act would establish a national fund to support teachers’ development of Holocaust education programs. This fund would help teachers who have never prepared for Holocaust curriculum gain more confidence and skills in teaching. According to an article published by the United States Jewish Federation, “This national fund would cover such expenses as training for educators, textbooks, transportation and housing for teachers to attend seminars, transportation for survivors to be brought to school, and field trips.” This Act commits financial support for Holocaust programs to every public middle/high school in the U.S..

Last but not least, this Act will create a website to enable Holocaust education and provide free resources about the Holocaust. According to the article published by the United States Jewish Federation, “ The website will facilitate connections with eligible entities and Holocaust education centers.” A Holocaust website would be expedient for everyone to have Holocaust education resources. The website also can help teachers to prepare more teaching resources.

I just finished reading a book called “Night” by Elie Wiesel in my English class. Before reading that book I didn’t know about Auschwitz, and I didn’t acknowledge the harrowing damages that the Holocaust caused back then because I didn’t have enough education, and I never had a class that focused on the Holocaust in the past. In the book, Elie Wiesel vividly depicted dehumanization, the struggle of religion, and belief. Miss Hall’s School also gave me a wonderful opportunity to sit and talk with Ms. Edith Velmans, who is a Holocaust survivor in her nineties. She talked about the loss of her family and the Holocaust’s repercussions in her life. 

Reading books and meeting with Holocaust Survivors are Holocaust education; I believe this education is an essential way for me to confront hatred. Mandating citizens to learn about and confront hatred can also address the silence toward genocides and dehumanization happening in the world today.  For instance, some media won’t report things that are actually happening in the world. This year, in June, Sudan experienced a massacre without any focus from media. Few knew about the crisis, and all the Wi-Fi was turned off in Sudan. Fortunately, citizens found out through Instagram and started to share the information all around the world. However, this incident is just one little piece of the genocides and massacres that are happening in the world right now. 

Through this education, I have learned that I should raise my voice and encourage more people to know and read books like “Night.”  Just as Elie Wiesel says, “Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere.” We should require more teenagers like me to have Holocaust and genocide education in order to encourage us to interfere and raise our voice to not let genocides like the Holocaust happen again in the future. 

Mr. Blumenthal, as one of the cosponsors of S.2085, I hope you will encourage more representatives to vote for this bill. I am interested in continuing this conversation with you. 

Sincerely,

Lanyi Jin 

492 Holmes Road Pittsfield, MA 01201

__________________________________________________________________________________

November 5, 2019

 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand 

478 Russell 

Senate Office Building 

Washington, D.C. 20510

 

RE: I am writing in support of Bill S.2179 

 

Dear Senator Gillibrand: 

My name is Sundara Hesse. I am a high school student at Miss Hall’s School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and I am from Chatham, New York.  

I am writing to encourage you to vote yes on The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Bill

I had briefly studied the Holocaust before in my education. I had never met a Holocaust Survivor until this year. It was a truly honoring and eye opening experience. I met Edith Velmans and her daughter.  Edith shared with my class her terrifying stories from the Holocaust. Edith Velmans still has many family members to care for her, but to come speak to us she needed the assistance of her daughter. Edith is privileged in that way. She has family surrounding her, willing to stay by her side; however, if she did not, there is a high probability she would need to be moved into a nursing home. The nursing homes are not equipped to care for a traumatized Holocaust survivor and would not know how to help her. 

I believe that this Bill should be passed because it will create a safe place for many traumatized U.S. citizens to age. The Bill formally defines Holocaust Survivor for the first time, creating visibility for them. Passing this Bill will lead to other, similar bills protecting the aging, unseen and forgotten citizens of this country. 

As of right now, the United States does not have a bill or any law protecting Holocaust Survivors who are, for the most part, in their eighties and nineties. Holocaust Survivors were greatly traumatized and deserve to be treated with respect in a place where they can spend the rest of their life in peace. Many Survivors do not have any family to care for them and a normal nursing home can be full of triggers. A few triggers for Holocaust Survivors include restrictions on food, structured schedules, ringing of bells, all of which can induce panic and anxiety creating an unsafe and emotionally draining atmosphere. Holocaust Survivors are much more susceptible to mental and physical health issues and have greater social service needs than the average, older person. The bill references a study which shows that approximately one-quarter of Holocaust Survivors are living alone. This can lead to health risks, many of which may result in hospitalization or nursing home admission. Many nursing homes available to Survivors, do not meet their needs or requirements. This Bill should be passed because Holocaust Survivors are being neglected by this country and deserve equal opportunities to spend their life in a safe environment with the care they need. 

As a legal bill, The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Bill creates visibility for the oppressed and outnumbered group and allows them to gain rights by law. Holocaust Survivors and Jews have been an unseen and unprivileged population of the United States for centuries and this country has an obligation to protect them and make them feel accepted. Passing this bill is a step in that direction. It has been almost seventy-five years since the end of the Holocaust and never once have its survivors been articulated in a legal document. 

This bill will also help with the education of the general public, giving them an easily accessible place to find basic information on the Holocaust and what it means to be a Survivor. Making something official and legal has huge significance to it and draws people’s attention. This bill should be passed, because Holocaust survivors are part of this country and have made a huge impact on it; therefore, our laws and bills must reflect those impacts and give survivors the visibility that they deserve.

I believe that when The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Bill is passed it will start a chain reaction for other bills. Bills that will be of similar benefit to people who have been traumatized in their lifetime and need a place to age with dignity, specifically designed to be free of triggers to spend the rest of their lives and receive the care they need. Often, in the U.S. the elderly are neglected and not cared for properly because “what’s the point, they aren’t here for much longer?” This mindset is why Bill S.2179 is a necessity. Once the bill is in place it will inspire people to create others that protect the aging members of the U.S. in general as well as those who have been through a traumatic experience and need specialized care and attention. This bill should be passed because the United States has an obligation to its citizens and we must do better to support those in need. 

I would like for you to vote in support of The TIME for Holocaust Survivors Bill. I believe it will greatly benefit this country in many ways. I hope that my words have inspired you and that I will hear back from you on your final decision. Thank you for your time. 

Sincerely,

Sundara Hesse 

492 Holmes Rd, Pittsfield, MA 01201

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