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Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission
Legislation that would create the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission has been signed into law by Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

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 and signed into law by Perry on June 19. The legislation took effect Sept. 1, 2009.

The commission will work under the auspices of the Texas Historical Commission to provide advice and assistance to public and private primary schools, secondary schools and institutions of higher education regarding implementation of Holocaust and genocide courses of study and awareness programs.

The commission is also charged with compiling a list of volunteers such as survivors of the Holocaust or other genocides, liberators of concentration camps, scholars and members of the clergy who have agreed to share verifiable knowledge and experience regarding the Holocaust or other genocides. It would also coordinate state events regarding the United Nations’ designated International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Twelve other states have similar councils or commissions.

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, Save Darfur, STAND: A Student Anti-Genocide Coalition — also expressed support for the legislation. 

The commission consists 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.

Perry named Peter Berkowitz of Houston to chair the newly created commission. Berkowitz is retired founder and chief operating officer of GE Continental Controls Inc. and past chairman of Holocaust Museum Houston. He is a member of the HMH Executive Committee and co-chair of the Development Committee. He is also a board member of the Houston Holocaust Museum Foundation Inc. and Executive Service Corps of Houston, and a past board and executive committee member of Hillel Texas.

The governor also appointed Laura Allen McCarthy of Richardson, Zsuzsanna Ozsvath of Richardson, David Schulz of Plano and LaSalle R. Vaughn of San Antonio.

Appointments made by Lt. Gov.  David Dewhurst included Holocaust survivor Anna Steinberger of Houston and second-generation member Martin Fein of Houston who served as founding chair of HMH. Other appointments included Fran Berg of Dallas, Gilbert Tuhabonye of Austin and Ambassador Sichan Siv of Castle Hills.

Appointments made by Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio) included Cohen, Dr. Ian Hancock of Buda, Dr. Frank Kasman of Midland, Suzanne Ransleben of Corpus Christi, Stanley Rosenberg of San Antonio and Holocaust survivor Chaja Verveer of Houston.

The terms of the initial public members of the commission will expire on Feb. 1, 2015.

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