AUSTIN, TX (Aug. 18, 2009) – Gov. Rick Perry today ceremonially signed Senate Bill (SB) 482, which creates the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission to help preserve information and experiences of the Holocaust and other genocide events.
Senate Bill (SB) 482, introduced by Sens. Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) and Florence Shapiro (R-Plano) during the 81st regular session, creates an unpaid, 18-member commission to help ensure that educators in Texas have the guidance and resources necessary to teach children the lessons of the Holocaust and other contemporary genocides.
The bill, which was initiated and backed by Holocaust Museum Houston, was passed unanimously by both the Texas House of Representatives and Texas Senate. The legislation takes effect Sept. 1, 2009.
Houstonians in attendance for the signing ceremony included Museum Executive Director Susan Myers; former Museum Chairman Peter Berkowitz; Holocaust survivor Chaja Verveer, president of Child Survivors of the Holocaust-Houston; and Ruth Steinfeld, also a Holocaust survivor and president of the Houston Council of Jewish Holocaust Survivors. Also present, among others, was Gregg Philipson, an Austin resident and member of the Museum’s Advisory Board.
The commission will work with organizations, agencies, museums, survivors and liberators to provide information and experiences and to coordinate memorial events in the state.
“As a state and nation, we are compelled to prevent future episodes of genocide and oppression by casting the light of truth on their history and educating our citizens on the circumstances that allow their occurrence,” Perry said. “Ultimately, that truth, and the willingness to defend the vulnerable among us will lead to greater justice. I believe this bill is an important statement of the values we hold dear in this state – those of respecting human life and valuing freedom for all men and women.”
The creation of this commission will give schools and organizations in smaller communities access to resources and information about the Holocaust and genocide that otherwise might not be available. The commission will consist of 18 members – 15 appointed by the governor, lieutenant governor and House speaker, with the commissioner of education, commissioner of higher education and executive director of the Texas Veterans Commission acting as ex-officio members.
“As a child of Holocaust survivors, I have lived the lessons of that horrific event all my life, but there are generations of people who have no access to the lessons and teachings of this historic tragedy,” Shapiro said. “The intolerance of that period remains a contemporary issue today that young people need to learn about. It is my hope that this legislation will help provide the information necessary to ensure that we never forget.”
Verveer, who at the age of one had her name placed on an arrest warrant simply because she was Jewish, told the crowd, “It is heartbreaking to see the same scenario played over and over again. Will the names of places like Auschwitz, Sobibor, Murambi, Srebrenica and Darfur become meaningless? Will we just keep adding new places of horror to the pantheon of genocides? In the words of historian and scholar Yehuda Bauer, there should be an Eleventh Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not be a victim, thou shalt not be a perpetrator, but above all, thou shalt not be a bystander.’”
“There is work to do. We cannot wait. The tragedy and horror of genocide is still with us,” she said.
“I am very proud to have authored this bill with my good friend Senator Shapiro. We must all stand up and recognize that genocide continues to take place all over the world. Sixty-four years ago, it was Eastern Europe. Today, it is Darfur,” Ellis said. “The Holocaust and Genocide Commission is Texas’ effort to ensure that our schools and communities have the resources they need to teach our kids and neighbors to do what is morally right when faced with such atrocities.”
“This bill means that all communities and particularly rural areas across Texas will have the opportunity to learn about what can happen if good people do not stand up to be counted,” Rep. Ellen Cohen said. “It will help educate young people, who will be the future leaders of their chamber of commerce, school board or Girl Scout troop, that while we may take exception to the views of others we can and must do so in a respectful and civil manner.”
Twelve other states have similar councils or commissions.
Co-sponsors for the bill in the Senate included: Sens. John J. Carona; Bob Deuell; Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa; Eddie Lucio, Jr.; Kel Seliger; Leticia Van de Putte; Jeff Wentworth; and Royce West.
House Bill 795, the identical partner to Senate Bill 482 was authored primarily by Cohen and state Rep. Warren Chisum, with additional authoring by Reps. Elliott Naishtat, Senfronia Thompson and Dan Branch. Co-sponsors for the bill in the House included: Reps. Alma A. Allen; Carol Alvarado; Leo Berman; Dwayne Bohac; Angie Chen Button; Norma Chavez; John E. Davis; Al Edwards; Veronica Gonzalez; Ryan Guillen; Will Hartnett; David Leibowitz; Sid Miller; Joseph E. Moody; Solomon Ortiz, Jr.; Tan Parker; Mark Shelton; and Randy Weber.
The idea for the commission was supported by other museums around the state, including the Dallas Holocaust Museum/Center for Education & Tolerance, El Paso Holocaust Museum and Holocaust Memorial Museum of San Antonio.
Many other organizations — including the Anti-Defamation League Southwest and North Texas Regions; Ballet Austin; Jewish Federation of Greater Houston; San Antonio Darfur Interfaith Coalition; Department of Texas Veterans of Foreign Wars and the national organizations Genocide Intervention Network and Save Darfur, STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition — also expressed support for the legislation.
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy. Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.
For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.