Holocaust commission gets new life; atrocities to be recalled this week in Texas, San Antonio – San Antonio Express-News

Posted By on January 26, 2021

A recommendation to abolish the states 12-year-old Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission has been modified to keep the organization active but under closer scrutiny by the Texas Historical Commission.

Everything is working out now, and we are still in existence, said Lynne Aronoff, chairwoman of the Holocaust commission. We believe that well emerge from this important process stronger and improved as a result.

The change comes as educators prepare for Texas Holocaust Remembrance Week, which begins Monday and runs through Friday.

A staff report released in November by the Texas Sunset Advisory Commission, which reviews state agencies every 10 years to determine whether they should stay as is, change or be eliminated, proposed dissolving the Holocaust commission, saying it has never functioned as intended, cannot show measurable benefit to the state and should be abolished.

But after receiving numerous protests including from state Sen. Jos Menndez, D-San Antonio, who authored the bill that created Remembrance Week the Sunset Commission replaced that proposal with a recommendation that the Holocaust group be brought under close oversight as an advisory committee of the Texas Historical Commission, with another sunset review set for 2031.

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The Legislature still must vote on the Sunset Commissions recommendation and has the ultimate say on which agency would oversee the group. The Texas Education Agency and the State Board of Education also have been mentioned as agencies that could handle oversight of the Holocaust commission.

Aronoff said shes hopeful the multiphase sunset review process will strengthen the commission, resulting in better operational guidance and metrics for success.

One area criticized in the sunset review was the lack of financial audits and oversight of the 27 matching grants issued by the commission from 2013 to 2019. The grants totaled $241,172, including three that combined awarded $13,493 to the Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio. Larger grant allocations have gone to museums in Houston, Dallas and El Paso.

In addition to no financial audits, the grant program lacked performance criteria and review, the sunset review found.

Reports on the review and public input are posted on the Sunset Commission website, sunset.texas.gov.

Nehemia Nammie Ichilov, who has guided the Holocaust museum in San Antonio through the pandemic, said the review process has been done a little bit backwards.

The Holocaust commission has had less than two years to comply with a 2019 state law that provided more direction than the commission had when it was created a decade earlier. Texas was among the first states to recognize the need for Holocaust education, he said.

Texas has gone one step further and said this is something that we want to make sure has a central focus, Ichilov said.

For Remembrance Week, which coincides with the anniversary of the liberation of prisoners at Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945, the museum has posted a schedule of two live online webinars daily on its website, hmmsa.org, providing stories of Holocaust survivors, often told through surviving family members.

Museum staff used a grant from the Holocaust commission to develop live and prerecorded presentations for the special week.

The San Antonio Public Library has been working with the museum on commemoration activities, including online exhibits, take-and-make kits available at all library locations and a self-directed Holocaust Remembrance Walk at Semmes Branch Library, 15060 Judson Road. For more information, go to the librarys website at http://www.mysapl.org.

The commissions website, thgc.texas.gov, offers educational materials on the Holocaust and overviews of other past or ongoing genocide events in Cambodia, Darfur, Bosnia, Rwanda, Burundi and the Middle East. The commission does not provide a mandated curriculum, but has materials and guidance for individual school districts to observe the week of remembrance.

Because of the pandemic, San Antonios Holocaust museum has gone 100 percent online, providing virtual tours, Ichilov said. Although many images from the Holocaust are too graphic for kindergarten or elementary-age students, the museum fulfills a state directive to provide early education by focusing on values.

We want to teach everybody who comes to the museum how to be an upstander. To use Elie Wiesels quote, The opposite of love is not hate, its indifference, Ichilov said, referring to the late philosopher and Holocaust survivor. We want to be able to teach the children that indifference is not an acceptable behavior. That when you see something wrong, you become an upstander.

The education initiative establishes a foundation for students, as they grow, to understand the Holocaust, the systematic genocide by Nazi forces of Germany of about 11 million people, including two-thirds of the Jews in Europe, along with political dissidents, homosexuals, the disabled and others.

Without that foundation of empathy and understanding, its easy for students to discount the atrocities as something that wasnt as terrible as what they saw firsthand a denial of truth that U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, supreme Allied commander, warned about, Ichilov said.

Its not that they dont want to believe that 6 million Jews, including one and a half million children, perished in the Holocaust. They simply dont have a frame of reference or a foundation to believe that happened, he said.

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With the U.S. experiencing interesting times a global pandemic, self-isolation and civil and political unrest the missions of the museum and the Holocaust commission are all the more critical, Ichilov said.

For those who are either Holocaust deniers, or who are simply not interested in addressing the topic because they dont want to have to struggle with their own reality of what that would mean to how they define the world, its important that we continue to tell the story and keep the memory of those who perished alive, he said.

Ichilov, who became director of the museum in March, believes that people want to do the right thing but that there are times when some need to struggle with their own voices and their own conscience.

We need to make sure that we put as many opportunities for them to struggle with that in front of them, so that they can come to their own conclusions, he said. Because when we try to convince people of what they should or should not believe, it doesnt accomplish sustainable change.


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Holocaust commission gets new life; atrocities to be recalled this week in Texas, San Antonio - San Antonio Express-News

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