Pennsylvania to Start Teaching the Holocaust Lessons

— by Deanne Scherlis Comer

No time is better than the present to truly remember the history and events of the Holocaust, with the world-wide terrorist assault on civilized values, which threaten the very fabric of humanity.

No time is better than now to add substance to the rhetoric of the United Nations General Assembly resolution of 2005 on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, set to coincide with the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, to teach our future generations about the unprecedented issues inherent in this genocide, which are universal in scope and transcend all lines of race, religion or ethnic background.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

Courtesy of The Cartoon Kronicles @ cartoonkronicles.com.

In earlier years, within public school districts throughout Pennsylvania, the teaching of the Holocaust was just an abbreviated anecdote in lessons about World World II. As scholarly research unearthed more information, and delved more deeply into its relevance, increasing interest was spawned.

However, the formulation of concrete curricula was sporadic, as funding was often limited due to other priorities.

Some, like the school district of Philadelphia and the Catholic Archdiocese, managed to collaboratively develop a premier guide of innovative and successful curriculum, entitled “Abraham, Our Brother in Faith.”

Others took leadership 25 years ago and formed the Pennsylvania Holocaust Education Council, comprised of a committed group of volunteer educators who served as a broker for the Pennsylvania State Department of Education. With a limited budget, the Council initiated teacher training and provided resources, until the  funding was curtailed a few years ago due to state budgetary constraints.

Without financial assistance, many districts could not provide the resources needed to prioritize the development of Holocaust curricula, giving impetus to the urgency that teaching the history and events of the Holocaust needed to be addressed at the state level in a more comprehensive way. 

Several Pennsylvania grassroots religious, educational and communal organizations and individuals, working with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and committed legislators, led the way to the historic Holocaust and Genocide Bill signed into law by Governor Corbett in June 2014.

Pennsylvania will now require all school districts to initiate the teaching of the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations for the forthcoming 2015/2016 school year.

To further this goal, the exploration of curriculum options will be discussed at a state-wide conference in March, co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania State Assembly and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Abington Schools Set an Example

The Abington School District, since 1980 (around the time of the establishment of the National Days of Remembrance of the Holocaust and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum), acted with great foresight in understanding that the lessons of the Holocaust needed more than a few brief lines in its social studies books. I served as chairperson of the Abington School District Holocaust Curriculum Committee for many years as we worked to ensure that a mandated guide be developed.

Lessons for middle-grade students explored recurrent themes of prejudice and racism, and the history of anti-Semitism, as well as connections to contemporary issues. Teacher training and developmentally appropriate materials provided support.

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Holocaust survivor lectures at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Educational Center.

Today, the Abington School District has continued its commitment of providing quality Holocaust education to its students, integrating the subject matter within new technology, adding appropriate new resources and updating its teachers’ data base of knowledge.

Recently, the district formed a partnership with the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, founded by survivor, Jacob Riz, 53 years ago in his home, and now located at the Klein JCC in Northeast Philadelphia. Its educational outreach programs have reached 38,000 students throughout the Delaware Valley, and presently will present more than 300 programs, as well as sponsor communal educational events.

For Abington, the collaboration provides many resources such as educational materials, artifacts and speakers from the museum’s Speakers’ Bureau of Survivors, Liberators and Resistors for the district’s assembly programs. Additionally, it utilizes the museum’s teacher trainers to assure that the district maintains its high standards of teacher preparedness.

A Continuing Legacy of Action

Many still ask, “Why is the study of the Holocaust still relevant?”

The diminishing of the group of eyewitnesses, the lack of knowledge among younger generations, the rantings of deniers and the horrific terrorism events of the past weeks and years around the globe, including rampant acts of anti-Semitism, make such teaching an imperative.

As the grandmother to young adult grandchildren who now walk the stepping stones of the 21st Century with its daunting challenges, I ask myself, “Is there still reason to hope for a better future for them and all humanity?”

When that happens, I think of a young sixth-grade teacher from Abington. After teaching a lesson about hidden children during the Holocaust, she cried:

I will never forget learning about this when I was a sixth-grade student. And now, I am imparting this knowledge to my students. I am helping them to see how they can make a difference with this knowledge and their individual responses.

I cried too, overjoyed that Holocaust Remembrance is not just rhetoric, but a continuing legacy of action.

Deanne Scherlis Comer is an educational consultant at the Holocaust Awareness Museum and Education Center, and the producer and writer of the documentary series, Voices of Holocaust History. She can be contacted at [email protected]

Abington Memorial Hospital Should Not Kneel to Church Dogma

— by Ken Myers, Esq.

On its Facebook page, the Abington Memorial Hospital identifies itself as a not for profit institution, as follows:

Abington Health is a not-for-profit, regional healthcare provider serving residents of Montgomery, Bucks & parts of Philadelphia counties, comprised of Abington Memorial Hospital, Lansdale Hospital, two outpatient campuses & Abington Health Physicians.

Mission: Abington Health is dedicated to improving the quality of life for all by fostering healing, easing suffering, and promoting wellness in a culture of safety, learning and respect.

Abington Health will be the most trusted health care partner, consistently exceeding expectations for care, comfort and communication.”


Presumably because “Abington Health” is regulated by the state as a hospital, it is not listed in the Pennsylvania Department of State charitable registration system. But it has received any number of public benefits typical of non-profits:

  • Property tax exemption — Abington and Lower Moreland, to name just two of the townships in which it operates, have allowed the hospital to remove large parcels of land from the tax base to enlarge its operations.
  • Municipal services beyond those extended to others, such as vacating streets and changing traffic patterns to accommodate the hospital.
  • Volunteer workers without pay — community people provide untold hours of volunteer services to the hospital, greeting and helping to move and handle patients.
  • Abington Day — a fund raising event supported by the community every year.

Over the ninety years that this modest local hospital transformed — with these public benefits — into a large institution, the public has bestowed its gifts on the assumption that this is a non-sectarian institution.

The strength of Abington Memorial Hospital contrasts with the smaller nearby Catholic hospital, Holy Redeemer, that it now seeks to attach to its health system. Certainly no small part of the development of Abington Memorial is attributable to its appeal as a non-sectarian institution rendering community service based on medical and ethical principles, not religious dogma.

By accepting religious dogma as a limit on its medical service, Abington Health breaks a covenant with all  those donors and public officials who have supported it and its non-sectarian mission.

By imposing its religious dogma on Abington health as a condition of a commercial transaction, the Church violates a key principle of American law and practice. Religions are free here to promote their beliefs and practices by virtually every means but not by coercion.

Governments — federal, state and local — are barred by the Constitution from coercing religious practice. Non-governmental enterprises including charities are barred by statute from coercing their employees to follow religious dogma. Non-governmental enterprises that accommodate the public — including hospitals — are barred by statute from discriminating against people on the basis of their religion. This includes refusal or unwillingness to participate in abortion or sterilization procedures, consistent with competent medical care.

In this case, the Catholic Church is coercing Abington Health to discriminate against all women who do not share the church dogma regarding their reproductive rights.

Seeking to add more “catchment area” to its substantial geographic influence, Abington Health is agreeing to impose this coercion on those who are caught!
Ken Myers is a member of the board of JSPAN.