For a state that historically has had a small Jewish community, at least as a percentage of its overall population, North Carolina has been in the vanguard in memorializing the Holocaust and educating its citizens. In 1981, three years after President Jimmy Carter created the President’s Commission on the Holocaust, Governor James B. Hunt Jr. established the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust as an agency of the Department of Public Instruction. In 1985 the General Assembly added its authorization, thus making North Carolina the first state in the country to establish such a council by legislative decree.
Its mission statement is “through its education programs and annual commemorations, the Council strives to help prevent atrocities similar to the systematic program of mass murder by the Nazis of six million Jews and others.” Its founding chair was Dr. B. Elmo Scoggin, a retired minister and archaeologist at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, who had long been a public voice against anti-Semitism.
The Council sponsors teacher workshops, traveling exhibits, traveling plays, and visits to the National Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington. Its Teacher’s Guide, available online, includes North Carolina survivor narratives. Through the Holocaust Speakers Bureau, local survivors and their descendants as well as Holocaust scholars are available to address civic and student groups. Most notably, the Council sponsors an Annual Holocaust Memorial Commemoration.
More recently, on November 18, 2021, the legislature passed The Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act which became law when Governor Cooper signed the budget. This Act mandates Holocaust education in middle and high school in public education starting in the 2023-24 school year. The Act was named in honor of Gizella Abramson, who, after moving to Raleigh in 1970, became a pioneering Holocaust educator. She recounted her own wartime experiences working in the Polish underground. Her son, Michael Abramson, now serves as the Council’s chair.
“I want to prevent atrocities like that from ever happening again,” Gizella Abramson would tell her listeners, “our life is a miracle.”
For more information contact the NC Council on the Holocaust here.