You need to hear their powerful testimony at the Holocaust Education Bill hearing


A hearing was held on Jan. 25 on HB2000, a bill promoting a week of (age-appropriate) Holocaust education and awareness programs in Missouri public schools. The bipartisan bill was pre-filed in December by state Rep. Adam Schwadron, R-St. Charles, and state Sen. Brian Williams, D-St. Louis County.

The hearing included testimony in support of the bill, from Schwadron; Helen Turner director of education and interpretation at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, and Alyssa Banford, director of civic engagement at Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis. Other supporters present included Rabbi Elizabeth Hersh, senior rabbi at Temple Emanuel, her husband Robert Kleinlehrer, and their son, Noah Kleinlehrer, a senior at MICDS.

The bill

Noah Kleinlehrer was the first speaker offering testimony, following Schwadron’s opening statements, which is significant, because Kleinlehrer came up with the original idea for the bill.

“Just under a year ago, I heard of the bill that had passed in Colorado. I had previously been working on Holocaust education by lecturing to schools on antisemitism and the Holocaust,” said Kleinlehrer.  “However, I was almost a senior and realized that I wouldn’t be able to have those opportunities in the future, as I would presumably be moving out of the state to attend university. In addition, the rates of antisemitism and the data showing the lack of education on the Holocaust was horrifying.”

Kleinlehrer thought that a law would be able to leave an imprint on Missouri and hopefully inspire other states to follow suit. He eventually found his way to Rabbi Jeffrey Abraham, where they combined efforts and eventually found connected with Schwadron.

The testimony

With each testimony, the legislators witnessed a powerful reason to support Holocaust education in our schools. What follows is a mix of video and written testimony from those who spoke at the hearing.

Helen Turner, Director of Education and Interpretation at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.

My name is Helen Turner and I am the Director of Education and Interpretation at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.

Good afternoon Chairman and members of the committee,

We are grateful to Representative Schwadron and his co-sponsor in the Senate, Senator Brian Williams, for prioritizing recognizing the need for students around the state to learn this important history.

Today, I want to discuss why Holocaust education matters for Missouri.

This is especially timely as Holocaust museums, memorials and Centers around the world prepare to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day this coming Thursday,  

All of these institutions  ask the question:  

Why does Holocaust education matter? It is a question I am constantly faced with, now more than ever. I currently serve as the Director of Education for a Museum that is being built. We are a construction site; a space of earth and concrete and wiring. A place to construct a future. What is the future we hope to build? We want to build a future where the promise of never again is a declaration.

Where all students are engaged in social-emotional learning through studying the lives and the losses of human beings just like them. Where Holocaust remembrance is not simply a few dates on the calendar but lives within all of us as a reminder to pay attention.

Pay attention to rising bias, prejudice, hatred, violence and Antisemitism. To take a stand, to support one another. But when asked about Why Holocaust education matters, my answer often comes to me in the form of a shoe.

In the new Museum, there will sit a child’s shoe. It is small and fragile. About the size of my palm. It comes from Auschwitz – Birkenau, the infamous killing center in Poland.  And based on the size and location the shoe was discovered in, we can estimate that this young person was, in all likelihood, murdered.

What strikes me about this shoe is that No matter how much research I conduct, or interviews I watch, or books I read, I will never know the name of this person. I will never know the story of their short life, the games they played or the books they read, the names of those who loved them.

Their life was taken because of the idea that they were different, evil, to be feared instead of nurtured. For me, that child’s story is why Holocaust education matters.

We are here to preserve the memories of those who survived and speak out for those who were murdered. The Holocaust was not so long ago and not so far away. It happened to people like you and I.

So why invest in Holocaust education? It is because this is a history of human suffering, of human failure to act and react in the face of hatred and Antisemitism. Simply put, It is a story of us.

It’s a story of our actions, big and small, in the face of hatred and prejudice and silence. If we as a state, and as a society do not learn the lessons of the Holocaust, to stand up and speak out in the face of bias, hatred and intolerance in all of its manifestations, we allow these things to proliferate our society and hurt and harm our fellow human beings. Holocaust Education is about teaching students, adults, and professionals about the power of their choices and empowering them to choose each other, to choose to stand up and speak out and to constantly move towards the declaration of never again.

The St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum is a powerful voice and resource in that declaration; providing tours, Holocaust and descendent speakers, grant opportunities such as the Rubin and Gloria Feldman Family Education Institute to fund Holocaust initiatives, and powerful programming across the state, both virtually and in person.

We offer robust programming to support our educators in teaching this difficult subject and are truly dedicated to providing every child, every teacher, every school with the resources they need to meaningfully engage with this history.

To that end, A week of Holocaust education, which this bill proposes is a hopeful start.

We hope it is the start of increased focus on Holocaust education in Missouri.

To further this education the state needs to provide financial and professional support for teachers and schools in order to encourage this education, not make it another task on the never-ending checklist of our educators, but a supported priority.  

Schools, students, parents, administrators, all need real, tangible support in making this bill a reality in our classrooms across Missouri.

So for a final time, I ask – why does Holocaust education matter? It matters because this is our story; yours, mine, ours. And together, through education, we can honor the survivors and remember the victims as we build a brighter tomorrow.

Thank you.

Rabbi Chaim Landa, co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles.

“Good afternoon, I share my testimony today, in my capacity as a rabbi, the grandchild of Holocaust survivors, a leader in my community, and as likely the most visible Jew in the county of St. Charles.

 My paternal grandparents were both survivors of the Holocaust. My grandfather, Rabbi Avraham Tzvi Landa survived the Holocaust by escaping to Shanghai, China and eventually arriving at the shores of the United States. His parents and all but one of his siblings were murdered simply because they were Jews. 

My grandmother, Chaya Landa, survived Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp in German-occupied Poland. Her mother and four of her siblings were murdered simply because they were Jews. My wife Bassy and I moved to St. Charles in February of 2020 to serve the County’s 6,000 Jews, and to establish the County’s sole Jewish center, the Chabad Jewish Center of St. Charles County.

Moving here from New York City, and of course growing up with my background – being in the Jewish community and knowing the stories of my grandparents – it was hard to believe the studies pointing to the huge lack of basic Holocaust knowledge among young people in America. 

But, as we immersed ourselves in the local community, and as I began visiting schools and talking to students, both elementary age and high school age children, it became clear to me that not everyone knows…The Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the most influential rabbi in modern history, was known for his optimism and for intentionally focusing on the good and the positive.

Yet, when asked by novelist Harvey Swados if such an atrocity – like the Holocaust – could again happen to the Jewish people, the Rebbe replied: ‘Morgen in der fruh – tomorrow in the morning.’

Shocking words, especially from someone as truly optimistic and forward-thinking as the Rebbe. As I understand Swados’s recollection, the Rebbe was not, G-d forbid, making a prediction. Rather, he was commenting on human nature and our inherent fragility.

We must keep our eyes open, never lose sight and never think darkness is beyond us. We must proactively reach for light.

All of us, but our children especially, need to know what happened to the Jews of Europe nearly 80 years ago. That the Holocaust is not just a word, but a real and horrific event in world history that saw real, innocent Jewish men, women and children murdered just for who they were.

And we all need to recognize, and learn, that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were likewise men, women and children, some of whom were indeed terrible people, but many of whom were regular people swept up by the twisted morality of Nazism.

It’s our duty… it’s our responsibility…  and our calling… to teach our children about the true events of the Holocaust, its victims and its perpetrators, that they come out knowing that each and every human being is created in the image of G-d, they themselves and their fellow, so that the Holocaust can truly never happen again. That is why I don’t just support this Holocaust education bill, but believe it is an imperative for our time.”

WATCH Tyler McClay , Executive Director and General Counsel for the Missouri Catholic Conference

Stacey Newman on behalf of her husband, Burt Newman, a HMLC docent and child of survivors.

I am Stacey Newman, a former member of the Missouri House, now retired.

I am testifying in favor of HB2000 on behalf of husband Burt who is a 2nd generation Holocaust survivor. From 2016 on, Burt spoke weekly at the St. Louis Holocaust Museum as a trained docent speaker to students and faith groups from all over Missouri telling his family story of their survival of Nazi Germany.

Speaking at the museum was his primary focus and love in his retirement from his law practice. Burt now has dementia and is a resident of a memory care facility. Which I why I’m testifying today. It is vital we keep the family’s Holocaust story alive as 1st generation survivors are almost gone.

Burt’s grandmother Sophie Neumann, the family matriarch, escaped from Russelsheim Germany in 1939. However, her eight sisters and their husbands and children did not – were taken from their homes, gassed and murdered, most at the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.

If you have not, I highly recommend you view the Auschwitz exhibit at Kansas City Union Station – I did last fall which was among the four hardest hours of my life. Sophie Newman and her four teenage children were lucky enough to buy their way out of Germany and make it to St. Louis, sponsored by a distant 2nd cousin who save their lives.

The Nazis had taken over their suburb village near Frankfurt, terrorizing the Jewish families and destroying their homes. Once they made it to St. Louis, they lived above a bakery on Cherokee Street as they learned and adapted to a new language, new currency, new customs while facing discrimination in the United States as they assimilated into our society.

Sophie’s husband Wolfe, a shoemaker, had a heart attack and died before they escaped. However, he had made the family shoes with hollow heels to smuggle in gold coins in order to survive in America. I’m wearing one of the last coins we have – my husband’s necklace that he wore every day of his adult life until he became ill. Sophie’s children married and started new businesses in St. Louis along with building their families without the fear of being taken away at night.

My father-in-law Marcel and his brother Alfred enlisted in the Army once they arrived in the states and went back to liberate their hometown during the end of World War II. Sophie and her children all became U.S. citizens and called their new country home. They never talked of the horrors and terror they witnessed.

Several years ago our last aunt died in her mid-90’s, Sophie’s youngest daughter. Cleaning out her apartment we found a Target bag in the back of a closet, stuffed with letters written in Old German. We had them translated and discovered even new horrors. Aunt Meta and Sophie had frantically tried to locate family, neighbors and close friends.

They compiled a list which we found, in their handwriting confirming the death camps where many of them ended up. It was chilling to read.Sophie Neumann made her family promise before she died two things – 1) to always remain a family and 2) never forget. My husband Burt and his cousin wrote “Sophie’s Prophecy”, our family book with as many details of their story as we could find.Burt and I also named our daughter, Sophie’s youngest great-grandchild after her. Daughter Sophie is now Kansas City middle school counselor.

Burt presented “Sophie’s Prophecy” at the school for several years which is still today taught to the 7th graders. The letters they still write to Burt every year in appreciation are amazing and heartfelt.Two weeks ago we all saw horror live again as a rabbi and his congregants were held hostage in a synagogue In Texas by a gunman.

Every day the Holocaust is mocked and anti-Semitic rhetoric becomes more commonplace. We Jews live in fear – at our temples, our schools, our neighborhoods which have been on frequent high alert since the anti-semitic mass shooting at the Los Angeles Jewish Community Center in 1999. When I was served in the state House, I frequently reminded my fellow members during issue debates on the floor that nothing compares to the Holocaust.

Yet that hateful rhetoric continues to be normalized. The last family portrait of Sophie Neumann with her parents and numerous siblings hangs in many of our homes so we can teach the next generations to never forget.In 2006, then Kirkwood State Sen. Mike Gibbons sponsored SB 1189 creating the Missouri Holocaust Commission which was signed into law by Governor Matt Blunt.

Today HB2000 adds to the statute by creating a “Holocaust Education Week” in Missouri schools. My husband Burt can no longer tell our family story – can no longer teach students the reality of the Holocaust. There are many stories just like ours – our family isn’t that unique.As hard as it is, these stories must continue to be taught.

The Holocaust happened less than 100 years ago, killing over 6 million Jews and several million others —because of how they worshiped and because they were deemed un-pure while much of the world pretended to look away. The Holocaust must never ever happen again.

WATCH: Alyssa Banford is the Director of Civic Engagement for the JCRC in St. Louis

Thank you Mr Chairman and members of the committee.

My name is Alyssa Banford, Director of Civic Engagement of the JCRC.

The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), guided by Jewish values, advocates, educates, collaborates, and mobilizes action on issues important to the Jewish community, 60,000 strong in St. Louis. We are committed to pursuing religious tolerance, civic discourse and social justice in St. Louis and beyond.

In 2020, the first-ever 50 state study about the Holocaust was released.  The findings indicate that:

  • Significant gaps in knowledge of the Holocaust  – 11% of US adults and over one-fifth of Millennials (22%) haven’t heard or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust; and
  • A majority of Americans (58 percent) believe something like the Holocaust could happen again

“Just 90 percent of respondents said they believed that the Holocaust happened. Seven percent were not sure, and 3 percent denied that it happened. One of the most disturbing revelations, the survey noted, is that 11 percent of respondents believe Jews caused the Holocaust. The number climbs to 19 percent in New York, the state with the largest Jewish population.”

So it’s not so far-fetched that 58% of people believe the Holocaust could happen again considering reports of antisemitic incidents are at an all-time high, according to the ADL. 

How do we ensure that the horrors of the Holocaust are not repeated? 

By educating the next generation. L’dor v’dor. In Hebrew, that means from generation to generation. We say l’dor v’dor to remember that it is our duty to pass along our traditions, our values, and our history along to the next generation.

We share how the efforts of a few in power managed to systemically dehumanize groups of people, largely the Jewish people.  

As a person of the Jewish faith and as an American, I am committed to ensuring that all parts of our history, including the most painful and most horrific, are preserved in our memories, to honor all those who have suffered and to ensure that we never, never, repeat these past mistakes.

Not to Jews, and not to any person.

We are grateful to Rep. Schwandron and his co-sponsor in the Senate, Senator Brian Williams for bringing this bill forward.  We are fortunate to have a  Holocuast Education and Awareness Commission in our state, and for allies who advocate that we share this history so it not be repeated. (some interfaith allies we’re here and planned to testify, but we’re unable to stay due to length of previous bill conversation)

Please support HB 2000 and ensure that our history, our entire history, is being taught to the next generation.

Thank you.