Alarmed by swastikas, Boucher pushes Holocaust studies

With the Swastika symbol making unwelcome appearances in towns like Ridgefield, Wilton and Redding over the last year, state Sen. Toni Boucher wants to make sure kids graduating from Connecticut’s public schools have a solid understanding of the dark history of genocide behind the hate symbol.

“The fact that two-thirds of the Jewish European population was eliminated, systematically exterminated, that is something that can never be ignored,” Boucher said. “It needs to be talked about and we need to have it as part of our instruction.”

Boucher told The Ridgefield Press on Tuesday, Jan. 23, that she plans to introduce a bill in the legislature requiring that Holocaust and World War II be part of the curriculum in public schools statewide. The senator, whose 26th District includes Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, Westport, and parts of Weston, New Canaan and Bethel, said her goal is to ensure that kids know the background of the Nazi symbol and the hate-filled ideology it stands for by the time they graduate from high school.

Boucher said she’d worked on a bill addressing Holocaust studies that was passed years ago when she was a Wilton state representative. Now, with three of the towns in her district dealing with swastika graffiti incidents in the past year, she thinks it’s time to revisit the issue and make sure studying the Holocaust is mandatory — not just a curriculum recommendation from the state.

Since last fall RIdgefield has had at least six incidents of swastika graffiti found — in Ballard Park, at Ridgefield High School and, most recently, last week on the Aldrich Museum and the Masons building on Main Street. In Wilton in 2017, a swastika drawn in red marker was found in a middle school bathroom. A few weeks later, a Jewish sixth grader found a note stuck to the student’s locker saying, “Jews will burn.” In 2014, swastikas were found etched into a wall and a locker at Wilton High School. In Redding last weekend (Jan. 20-21) a swastika was found etched into a tree at Topstone Park.

“Ridgefield, Wilton and Redding have had incidents. I’m sure there are situations in other towns as well,” Boucher said.

“Anti-Semitism has risen — I understand that from the Anti-Defamation League — and other hate cases have risen, and that’s of great concern to the community,” she said.

“There is a heightened concern right now about anti-Semitism. And, of course, we’re always concerned about prejudice and bigotry within our society for people of different races and people of different religions,” she said.

“It had not been focused on for at least 10 years in the House, when we did pass a bill that told school systems that they should voluntarily teach this, about this issue. That the state would have curriculum guidelines available to them, should they want to do it — not a mandate. Therefore, not too many have really reached out to the Department of Education. That’s when I saw they needed updating on this. That’s well and good, but it’s all voluntary. I know if you really want to focus on something, you require that it’s included in the history or social studies curriculum,” Boucher said.

Exactly when and how the studies are fit into the curriculum would be a decision of local schools.

“I do think either middle school or certainly high school — high school is a very appropriate place for it,” Boucher said.

“By the time they graduate out of high school, they should have had at least some direct exposure to this topic.”

Boucher said “the good news” includes that in the legislature’s last session, “a bipartisan bill to reinforce our hate crimes legislation” was passed to “increase the focus and penalties” for attacks on institutions like synagogues and churches.

Mandates on school systems aren’t the most popular thing these days. And as a Republican in a legislature long controlled by Democrats, Boucher admits she hasn’t always had success moving bills through Hartford’s process. But she’s optimistic a Holocaust studies bill will have a fighting chance.

“Given that I’m one of the co-chairs of the Education Committee, I’m hoping this at least gets a public hearing so that we can talk about it,” she said.