Holocaust Remembrance: Education In Corvallis, Denial in Salem

City Club of Corvallis and The Corvallis Advocate co-hosted a CitySpeak event at Old World Deli on Thursday, May 9, focused on the fading importance of Holocaust education and the emergence (or resurgence) of hate groups and Nazi sympathizers in Oregon. The event came the day after a tense hearing in the Capitol on Senate Bill 664, which mandates statewide Holocaust education, during which a handful of Oregonians gave testimony rife with Holocaust denialism.

In Corvallis, Advocate Associate Editor Jay Sharpe spoke with City Club President and Advocate publisher Steve Schultz about his story on the state of Holocaust education in Corvallis schools. Sharpe regularly reports on the activities of hate groups and extreme right-wing political movements in Oregon and beyond.

He said the school district was slow to respond, and told him that Holocaust education was taught “in pockets” by various teachers, but did not specify where these pockets were or why this curriculum had not been adopted by the entire district.

In the process of reporting the story, Sharpe found that the Corvallis School District no longer teaches the book version of Anne Frank’s diary. One parent, a member of the Jewish community, previously expressed concern that their 5th grade child was not equipped to handle the material, after which the district stopped using the diary as teaching material.

In Salem, public hearings before the House Education Committee on Senate Bill 664 took a turn after some offered testimony which repeated common Holocaust denial arguments. They claimed that the facts of history change, or that the claims of death tolls from the Holocaust are exaggerated, or the legislature is “cherry-picking the lessons from the past to satisfy one political group of one small religious group.”

Committee chair Rep. Margaret Doherty (D-Tigard) restricted the reading of testimony from Thomas Madison of Salem, which included claims that the death tolls during the Holocaust were “relatively small… from disease and starvation.” Madison became visibly upset, and accused Doherty of stopping him from speaking his testimony in a public place.

“Yes, I have,” responded Doherty coolly.

The committee voted 9-0 to move the bill forward to the full House floor.

“Nothing has made me want to take this vote more than some of the testimonies we have heard today,” said committee member Rep. Courtney Neron (D-Wilsonville). “I am so glad we are supporting this kind of education because we have to get the message out and the facts straight.”

By Ian MacRonald