Holocaust Deniers Fail to Wreck Oregon Legislative Hearing on Educating About Nazi Crimes
What was intended as a routine legislative meeting in Salem, Oregon, on Thursday concerning Holocaust education in the state’s school curriculum ended up being hijacked by a group of Holocaust deniers, including one who claimed to be “offended” by the “exaggerations” of the scale of the Nazi extermination of the Jews.
The ugly exchange took place during a meeting of the Oregon legislature’s House Education Committee, which focused on the implementation of a State Senate resolution in March requiring school districts to instruct students about the Holocaust and the wider problem of genocide.
Local news outlet Oregon Live reported that “after some 30 minutes of testimony from supporters [of the resolution] — including a husband and wife who had survived the Holocaust as children — the tenor of the hearing changed dramatically.”
One Holocaust denier opposing the legislation, Marvin Sandnes, questioned whether the slaughter of six million Jews by the Nazis had actually occurred. According to Oregon Live, Sandnes has frequently — but never successfully — run for legislative and congressional seats. He is also known for pushing 9/11 conspiracy theories in public displays at the state capitol.
Another person testifying against the bill, Mark DeCoursey of Salem, accused lawmakers of “cherry-picking the lessons from the past to satisfy one political group or one small religious group.”
The debate left some on the committee visibly shaken, and its chair, Rep. Margaret Doherty, called a recess for members to regroup. When Doherty resumed the session to allow Thomas Madison, another Holocaust denier, to speak, she told him first, “I’m going to ask you not to read your (written) testimony.”
Doherty continued: “Some of the things in the testimony are quite offensive to me personally. We’re going to give you the opportunity to speak, but I want to have you just very, very briefly summarize what your testimony is.”
That did not sit well with Madison. His voice rising, he said he should be allowed to counter what he called “the exaggerations” of those who feel schoolchildren should be taught about the Nazi genocide.
“I’m offended by it,” said Madison. “This is a public testimony, a place where people come to discuss issues left and right. And you have stopped me from doing so.”
“Yes, I have,” responded Doherty, calmly.
With testimony over, committee members discussed the hearing before casting their votes. Rep. Courtney Neron said she first learned about the Holocaust in-depth as a teenager, when she visited the Dachau concentration camp.
“Nothing has made me want to take this vote more than some of the testimonies we have heard today,” she said. “I am so glad we are supporting this kind of education because we have to get the message out and the facts straight.”
The committee voted 9-0 to send Senate Bill 664 to the House floor.