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Holocaust survivor testifies in favor of requiring schools to teach the history of genocide

Dora Zaidenweber spoke in support of a bill that would require Holocaust and genocide education in social studies curricula for middle and high school students.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Dora Zaidenweber has spent the past 78 years telling people about her experiences in Nazi death camps during World War II, and warning about the dangers of history repeating itself. 

On Wednesday, her audience was the House Education Policy Committee.

"I am a survivor of the Holocaust," Zaidenweber, who is now 99 years old, told lawmakers.

"When we were privileged to come to the United States most people were not quite believing that this could've happened to us. And they certainly didn't believe as we pleaded it could happen again."

She was speaking in support of new legislation that would require lessons on genocide be part of social studies curriculum for middle school and high school students.

"I was living in Poland when the German nation embarked on the murder of six million of my people, including most of my family."

Zaidenweber was 15 years old in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland and forced her extended family into a Jewish ghetto in the city of Radom. In 1944 they were shipped to the Auschwitz death camp in Poland, and later moved to the Bergen-Belsen camp in northern Germany.

By the time British soldiers liberated the camp in 1945 Zaidenweber's only living relatives were parents and her brother. She came to the United States in 1950.  Her testimony at the State Capitol comes at a time that hate groups are trying to downplay the Holocaust or outright erase that history.

"Everybody in Minnesota who is educated should have a knowledge of the dangers of mass murder, that it can happen, and that people have to understand to learn to live with each other."

The bill's chief author, Rep. Frank Hornstein, is the child of Holocaust survivors.

"I never met my grandparents. Both sets of grandparents on both sides were murdered by the Nazis, along with many uncles and aunts," Hornstein told KARE.

"The point of this bill is to make sure that Minnesota students are very familiar with the genocides that have taken place around the world, the Holocaust, and right here in Minnesota with the Indigenous Peoples' genocide."

RELATED: Dora Zaidenweber's oral history at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Dora was treated as a star witness at Wednesday's hearing, but it wasn't always like that. She told KARE that many times her visits to Minnesota schools to talk about the Holocaust left her feeling discouraged and saddened.

"All the years I worked with education in Minnesota. I had really terrible experiences just for being Jewish. It happened so often that coming home that I was really crying."

She said she's learned over the years the best way to reach someone's heart is to smile and touch their hands.

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