A primary sponsor of a bill in the Ohio General Assembly that would ban teaching “divisive concepts” like critical race theory wrongly referred to the Holocaust as an event where “hundreds of thousands of people” were murdered “for having a different color of skin.”
The comments made by Republican state Rep. Sarah Fowler Arthur during an interview this month with Cleveland’s News 5 raise fresh concerns about Ohio House Bill 327 and whether one of the lawmakers promoting it even understands what happened during the Nazi Holocaust.
“What we do not want is for someone to come in and say, ‘Well, obviously the German government was right in saying that the Aryan race is superior to all other races, and therefore that they were acting rightly when they murdered hundreds of thousands of people for having a different color of skin,’” Fowler Arthur told the interviewer, Morgan Trau, in a four-minute clip, appearing to argue against teaching the Holocaust from the perspective of its perpetrators.
“We believe that is anti-American and that it goes against everything America stands for,” she said.
However, Fowler Arthur gets basic facts about the Holocaust wrong. More than 6 million Jews were murdered by Germany and its allies during World War II. Moreover, the issue wasn’t their “color of skin” — the Nazis justified the Holocaust by casting Jews as their own biological race with distinguishable characteristics that went beyond skin color.
The Ohio lawmaker then added a confusing caveat to her argument: “You should talk about these atrocities that have happened in history, but you also do have an obligation to point out the value that each individual brings to the table,” she said.
Besides trying to tamp down the supposed teaching of critical race theory, a concept that, as an academic framework, is only taught in college-level courses, Fowler Arthur’s anti-CRT bill attempts to penalize teachers for not presenting both sides of an ideological argument.
Fowler Arthur told News 5 that she’s been “personally listening to some audiobooks on the Holocaust lately,” and argues that level of curiosity should be applied across the board for such events.
“Maybe you’re going to listen to the perspective of someone from Poland when they were undergoing similar displacement or when they were being incorporated into the war into some of these camps. Or maybe you’re listening to it from the perspective of a Jewish person that has gone through the tragedies that took place. And maybe you listen to it from the perspective of a German solider and then you take all those things and you’re asked to write a paper on what happened,” she said.
By “German soldier,” Fowler Arthur appears to be referring to a Nazi.
A representative for Fowler Arthur told HuffPost she plans to clarify her remarks in the future but wouldn’t comment today.
James Pasch, a regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, told HuffPost there are absolutely not “two sides” to issues such as the Holocaust or slavery, and added that his organization is strongly opposed to Fowler Arthur’s bill.
“The notion that there are two sides to the Holocaust is offensive,” he said. “It’s ignorant, it’s dangerous, and ultimately there are historical events — the Holocaust being a seminal one of them — where there are not two sides.”
He said that Fowler Arthur’s comments prove just how much damage the bill she’s sponsoring would actually cause.
“The Holocaust is one of those pivotal moments in world history where historical accuracy about what occurred could not be more important,” he said.
Melissa Cropper, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, tweeted out harsher words in response to the interview.
“This is repellent to every teacher and should be equally repellent to every legislator,” she tweeted Wednesday. “Sarah Fowler Arthur’s ignorance about the basic facts behind the Holocaust, including the magnitude of the genocide and the motivations of the Nazi regime, show exactly how important honest education on difficult topics is.”
Fowler Arthur served on the state board of education before joining the Ohio House of Representatives in 2021. She’s described herself as a small-business owner, entrepreneur and farmer.
Her remarks were chilling to those who view the GOP-sponsored House Bill 327 and a companion bill as an attempt to whitewash history, or inject “both sides” equivalency into events where there is none. Its sponsors, meanwhile, say it would prevent “dangerous” and “divisive” ideologies from being taught in classrooms.
At least 36 states have passed laws restricting how racism and history is taught in K-12 schools. In 2022, the focus has begun to shift to higher education.
Ohio’s proposed legislation has emphasized several controversial elements. For one, it would punish teachers for not presenting “both sides of a political or ideological belief or position,” potentially resulting in schools losing funding for violating standards that are problematic or impossible to establish. It would also seemingly ban the teaching of systemic racism and gender fluidity, and directs teachers to present current events in a nonpartisan fashion.