Keeping Holocaust stories alive is essential for learning from the past

January 27, 2022 9:11 am

Holocaust stories are important for every Arizonan. We must keep them alive.

Today, January 27, was designated as International Holocaust Remembrance Day by the United Nations in 2005. This was the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, and on this date, we honor the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust — as well as the millions of other victims of Nazism.

The Phoenix Holocaust Association (PHA) is dedicated to honoring the memory of those who perished during the Holocaust, recognizing and serving those who survived, and appreciating individuals who chose to help. 

We must never forget — because the world needs to remember. Seventy-seven years after the end of World War II, violent antisemitism remains a threat both in this country and across the world. The recent hostage crisis at a Texas synagogue is just one example of threats against Jewish people and amplifies the need for continued education on the dangers of hatred and bigotry.


There’s good news, too. Arizona has in the past year made great progress on this topic. House Bill 2241, known as the Holocaust Education Bill, passed in the state legislature six months ago, ending a more than three-year effort to ensure Holocaust education is taught in Arizona’s public schools.

Thanks to that bill, introduced by Rep. Alma Hernandez of Tucson, it is now law that Arizona’s public schools will be required to teach about the Holocaust and other genocides at least twice between 7th and 12th grades.

In anticipation of this mandate, the PHA spearheaded a task force to develop resources for teachers on the Holocaust and other genocides including Armenia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Native Americans. Co-chaired by myself and Kim Klett, a Dobson High School teacher and Holocaust educator, the task force included professors from all three state universities and several community colleges, Holocaust survivors and authors.

The resulting toolkit can be accessed on the Arizona Department of Education website:

One of the best ways to learn about the Holocaust is to hear stories from survivors. For example, PHA offers a robust speakers bureau that provides speakers including survivors and their descendants available to schools across the state. While the pandemic has limited in-person presentations, virtual talks facilitate presentations to even the most remote parts of Arizona. 

We must teach the past, and learn from the past, to ensure these horrors never happen again. To anyone.

– Sheryl Bronkesh

Additionally, PHA has recently launched two videos featuring area Holocaust survivors with accompanying teacher guides for use in classrooms. Both videos, “Resilience: Reflections of Arizona Holocaust Survivors” and “The Hidden Children,” are available on the PHA website as well as the Arizona Department of Education’s website. 

Today, there are approximately 60 survivors living in the greater Phoenix area. The PHA has worked tirelessly these past several years to ensure that this education bill was passed. It is especially significant, as there are several of Arizona’s Holocaust survivors who testified before committees and who have witnessed this bill become a law. Sadly, other survivors died before having the chance to rejoice in this milestone.

While HB2241 was a good beginning, there is still much work to be done. Several recent national research polls revealed many people lack accurate knowledge about the Holocaust — and even about World War II as a whole.

Education is important to clarify misconceptions that today’s students may have about World War II, such as how it started, who the perpetrators were and how many people were killed.

Started in the Valley more than 36 years ago, the PHA was a place for survivors to connect to others with similar experiences. At its core then, as it is now, was recognizing the importance of talking about the Holocaust. And who better to share the stories than those that were there?

The ultimate goal is for students to become upstanders, not bystanders, so that when students see bigotry and hatred, they will understand what those ramifications could mean down the road. We must teach the past, and learn from the past, to ensure these horrors never happen again. To anyone.


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Sheryl Bronkesh
Sheryl Bronkesh

Sheryl Bronkesh, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors, is president of the Phoenix Holocaust Association. She also chairs the Genocide Awareness Week Community Advisory Board at ASU and is a member of the advisory board of NAU's Martin-Springer Institute. She is a graduate of the W.P Carey School of Business at ASU with an MBA degree, and was formerly president of a national health care consulting company.