On April 8, Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed into law Act 611, which requires public schools to teach Holocaust history to Arkansas students grades five-12.
The date was significant. April 8 of this year was Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, a national memorial day in Israel in recognition of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others who died under Nazi Germany's state-sponsored persecution.
The act was introduced as Senate Bill 160 by Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, and co-sponsored by Rep. DeAnn Vaught, R-Horatio. It unanimously passed in the 35-member Senate and 90-0 in the 100-member House.
In 2019, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. surged to its highest level since 1979, with more than 2,100 acts of assault, vandalism and harassment, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Teaching children about the Holocaust can help to combat neo-Nazism, says Barry Brown, a retired exercise science professor and researcher at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and member of the Springdale-based Holocaust Education Committee.
"The only way we can really, truly eliminate hate is if kids are exposed to the Holocaust -- why and how it was caused, what caused it -- so it will not be repeated."
The 78-year-old Brown, who is Jewish, grew up in Brooklyn, N.Y. His cousin survived a German concentration camp.
"He told us all about that, and this was back in the '50s before many survivors would even talk about it," Brown says.
In 2018, Brown brought Pieter Kohnstam, a Holocaust survivor whose babysitter was Anne Frank -- yes, that Anne Frank -- to be the keynote speaker at the Holocaust committee's 27th annual conference.
Kohnstam, who lives in Venice, Fla., is an advocate for Holocaust education. In a May 19, 2019, Democrat-Gazette article about an exhibit of Anne Frank photographs in North Little Rock, he said:
"There is a phenomenal amount of people who don't know the Holocaust existed. We hope that superintendents and government officials initiate teaching, by law, that not only the Holocaust existed but also about standing up against genocide and racism."
After the article ran, Brown said he was approached by his friend and former Arkansas Razorbacks baseball coach Norm DeBriyn, who connected him with Hester. Brown started the Holocaust Education Living Proposal Committee, supporters reached out from other parts of the state, letters were sent and the legislation took shape.
"It just steamrolled," Brown says.
But work is just beginning, he adds.
"We have to stay in close touch with the Arkansas Department of Education and not let this fall through the cracks. By 2023, hopefully this will be part of the established curriculum in all of the public schools in the state."