Teacher suspended for making class act out Holocaust scenes with children digging mass graves

When students asked why Germans did this, teacher claimed it was ‘because Jews ruined Christmas’

Arpan Rai
Tuesday 21 December 2021 17:13
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An elementary school in Washington DC has placed their third grade teacher on leave for allegedly asking students to re-enact scenes from the Holocaust.

The teacher had asked her students — aged around 8 and 9 — at the Watkins Elementary School to act out scenes where they had to dig mass graves and shoot people, according to an email sent to parents by the school’s principal M Scott Berkowitz. The teacher has now been placed on administrative leave.

Last Friday, the students were preparing for a class presentation when they were pulled in for the re-enactment assignment.

A Jewish student was reportedly asked to portray Adolf Hitler. At the end of the exercise, the child was asked to enact the German dictator’s death by suicide, confirmed the student’s parents, according to The Washington Post.

Another student was asked to act like he was on a train headed to a concentration camp and then pretend to shoot his fellow classmates, his parents said, requesting anonymity. He was also asked to pretend that he was dying in a gas chamber during the course of the assignment, they said.

When the students asked the teacher why the Germans did this, the teacher reportedly said it was “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”

She allegedly made more anti-Semitic comments during the assignment and directed the students to not tell anyone about the re-enactment. However, they told their homeroom teacher, according to a parent.

In an email to parents, the school’s principal acknowledged the incident and said that it should not have occurred. “I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be asked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war or murder,” Mr Berkowitz said in the email.

Officials also arranged for the entire class to meet the school’s mental health response team after the incident, he added.

An investigation has been launched into the incident, which has also been reported to DC Public Schools’ Comprehensive Alternative Resolution and Equity Team.

A spokesperson for the team also tendered an apology and said, “This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologise to our students and families who were subjected to this incident.”

The incident was also condemned by B’nai B’rith Int’l — a human rights group for Jewish community — which has sought swift action to address the incident.

“We are stunned & outraged that a Washington, DC school teacher had third graders act out #Holocaust scenes. We commend the school for taking swift action to address the incident but also stress that this was not just a ‘poor instructional decision,’ as the principal called it,” the organisation said on Twitter.

It added: “In fact, this was a traumatic, abusive and #antisemitic event. The school must do everything it can to ensure the children subjected to this abuse are supported.”

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