Dora Zaidenweber, 99-year-old Holocaust survivor, tells state lawmakers: “Mass murder can happen”

Bill would require Holocaust and genocide education in schools, including education about genocide of Indigenous people

By: - March 15, 2023 7:14 pm

Dora Zaidenweber testifies at a Minnesta House hearing March 15, 2023. Her daughter Roseanne Zaidenweber looks on. Photo by Grace Deng/Minnesota Reformer.

When Dora Zaidenweber first came to the United States in 1950 after surviving Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, some people did not believe the Holocaust happened — and that it certainly could not happen in America. 

“Not only all students, but everybody — everybody in Minnesota educated — should have a knowledge of the dangers of mass murder; that mass murder can happen,” said Zaidenweber in front of Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday. 

Zaidenweber, 99, was testifying in support of HF2685, which would require Holocaust and genocide education in the middle and high school curricula. The bill comes after the Minnesota Department of Education was widely criticized for releasing a first draft of updated social studies standards in 2020 that failed to include the Holocaust as required subject matter. 

Although Minnesota’s younger generations fare better in knowledge tests about the Holocaust than most of the country, it’s not a high bar to pass. Nationally, 48% of Millennials and Gen Z respondents could not name a single concentration camp established during World War II — and 11% of respondents believe Jewish people caused the Holocaust. 

However, 72% of respondents in Minnesota believe the Holocaust should be taught in schools. Surveys show teaching about the Holocaust results in higher critical thinking skills and a greater sense of social responsibility. 

Chief author of the bill, Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL-Minneapolis, came to the committee hearing with the honors paper he wrote in college detailing interviews with his own family members who survived the Holocaust. 

“Many Holocaust survivors are older, and we need to make sure those stories are preserved for the future generations. When we lose the witnesses, we lose a part of our own history,” Hornstein said. 

Hornstein introduced an amendment to require schools to teach about the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the United States. The amendment also requires schools to “analyze how individuals, groups and societies around the world have been affected by genocide,” especially those experienced by communities now living in Minnesota. 

“I had one community leader tell me: ‘Genocide is woven into the fabric of Minnesota,’” said Joe Eggers, interim director for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota. “And he’s right. Over the last five decades, tens of thousands of foreign-born people have found a safe home in Minnesota.” 

Eggers also said if the bill passes, it would be the first time a state statute acknowledges the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the United States. 

Other testifiers also spoke in support of the resources and funding the bill allocates to training teachers. Eggers said the number one reason Holocaust and genocide are not included in curricula is because teachers don’t have the necessary resources or knowledge. 

The bill passed unanimously out of the committee. Its next stop is the Education Finance Committee. 

Correction: A previous version of this story said the bill was laid over. The original plan listed on the legislative agenda was to lay the bill over for further consideration, but the bill ended up advancing. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Grace Deng
Grace Deng

Grace Deng was a reporting intern with the Minnesota Reformer. They studied legal studies and Asian American Studies at Northwestern University. The Seattle native has previously been a statehouse intern with USA TODAY Network Ohio and an editorial fellow with Washingtonian Magazine.