A Proven Antidote to Holocaust Ignorance
OpinionFrom Where I Sit

A Proven Antidote to Holocaust Ignorance

Even as lawmakers grapple with the governor's call to cut spending, the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust plans for its future.

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Perhaps the least surprising item in a recent Pew Research Center study was that Americans who had visited a Holocaust memorial or museum knew significantly more about the Holocaust than those who had not. So did those who “personally know someone who is Jewish” and those with a college education.

Americans’ general lack of Holocaust knowledge is “not a reflection of attitudes toward Jews, but a reflection of how history has declined as a subject of interest in America,” Kenneth Jacobson, deputy national director for the Anti-Defamation League, told Religion News Service.

Cue the George Santayana quote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The Pew findings validate the efforts of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, the William Breman Jewish Heritage Museum, and the Museum of History and Holocaust Education at Kennesaw State University.

To mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, the Holocaust commission unveiled a display at the state capital honoring survivors and concentration camp liberators.

Elsewhere under the gold dome, the members of the General Assembly were applying the proverbial fine-tooth comb to Gov. Brian Kemp’s $28.1 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, which begins July 1. Tax collections are down and Kemp has ordered most state agencies to spend 4 percent less than was budgeted this year and to expect a 6 percent cut for fiscal 2021.

That includes the taxpayer dollars earmarked for the Holocaust commission, accounting for roughly 0.001 percent of the budget, $320,857 in the current fiscal year and $267,912 in the next.

The year-to-year decrease is to be achieved by the budget cuts and by shifting administrative services for the commission to the university system’s Board of Regents from the Department of Community Affairs. According to the budget, that move will “leverage operational efficiencies and eliminate duplicative services,” with the KSU museum.

Asked to explain, the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget told the AJT:

“The Commission will still have complete autonomy to decide where it wishes to locate its offices and exhibits. As they have a number of items that they use for traveling exhibits, our hope would be that they could possibly work with the museum to rotate items between both of their permanent exhibits and traveling exhibits. The museum could also provide an opportunity to highlight the work of the Commission for its visitors. The governor’s recommendation does not seek to usurp the autonomy or authority of the Commission, but instead to provide more opportunities to promote the work and efforts of both the Commission and the KSU museum with lower administrative costs.”

Sally Levine, executive director of the Holocaust commission, said that any comment would be “premature” because “We anticipate that the proposed budget and associated recommendations will be reviewed and revised.”

Indeed, House and Senate members already are trying to mitigate the effects of the budget cuts on their constituents. Whether they reconsider funding levels for the Holocaust commission before the legislature adjourns remains to be seen.

Meanwhile, the Holocaust commission continues to raise money for an upgrade from the Sandy Springs shopping strip that houses its offices and the “Anne Frank in the World: 1929-1945” exhibit.

The commission is a partner in Sandy Springs’ plans to build a cultural center, presumably close to the City Springs complex. A city spokeswoman said the commission was expected to contribute about $3 million of the anticipated $8.6 million cost. To that end, the commission created the Friends of the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust, a nonprofit so new that it has yet to file a tax return.

The AJT reported last June that the commission and Anne Frank exhibit might occupy 7,000 square feet in the projected 20,000-square-foot cultural center.

Chuck Berk, secretary of the commission, said that the exhibit could be enhanced with the materials from the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, but also might expand to feature histories of Georgians in the Holocaust, a display of newspapers and magazine reporting from that period, artifacts related to the Holocaust, and a look at current genocides in the world.

Overlap in the work done by the Holocaust commission, The Breman Museum and the KSU museum is inevitable. The Pew study shows that their efforts – individually, or even more so, when they take advantage of opportunities to collaborate – are an antidote to Santayana’s warning.

[Columnist’s note: AJT owner-publisher Michael Morris serves on the Holocaust commission board. The reporting and perspective in this column are the author’s.]

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