A California school district where students were told to write an assignment on whether the Holocaust actually happened has taken “full responsibility” for the controversial assignment, saying it was “horribly inappropriate.”
Before an overflowing board chamber, the Rialto Unified School District school board faced down rabbis, officials and members of the public over what had been decried as a “grotesque assignment.”
“That Holocaust denial exists is an insult against all of the victims of the Nazis, dead and alive,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, told the board Wednesday night, the San Bernardino Sun reports.
The eighth grade assignment “bestowed legitimacy (on Holocaust denial) and equivalency between hate and history,” he said.
Following angry scenes, the board met behind closed doors and returned an hour later with a prepared statement:
“The board and staff are deeply sorry for the hurt and propagation of misinformation caused by this assignment,” the statement, read by board president Joanne Gilbert, began.
“There was no intent to be hurtful, but due to a lack of critical thought and a lack of internal checks and balances, this project commenced and turned into a horribly inappropriate assignment.”
The board announced that the eight-graders would be required to undergo sensitivity at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, “a human rights laboratory and educational center dedicated to challenging visitors to understand the Holocaust in both historic and contemporary contexts and confront all forms of prejudice and discrimination in our world today.”
The English/Language Arts assignment handed out to 2,000 students, first reported Sunday by the San Bernardino Sun, asked pupils to research and write an argumentative essay about the Holocaust describing “whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”
Three sources were included in the 18-page assignment, including one that argued there was no evidence Jews had died in gas chambers, claiming the “hoax” was used to bolster US support for the state of Israel.
“With all this money at stake for Israel, it is easy to comprehend why this Holocaust hoax is so secretly guarded,” states the source, which is attributed to a webpage on biblebelievers.org.au. “In whatever way you can, please help shatter this profitable myth. It is time we stop sacrificing America’s welfare for the sake of Israel and spend our hard-earned dollars on Americans.”
The office of the Rialto Unified School District superintendent issued a statement Monday claiming the assignment had merely been a critical thinking exercise.
“The intent of the writing prompt was to exercise the use of critical thinking skills,” the statement read. “There was no offensive intent in the crafting of this assignment. We regret that the prompt was misinterpreted.”
Several groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, contacted the school district about the assignment to voice their concerns, AP reported.
"This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Los Angeles-based center.
The Rialto police department said the assignment incited death threats against the district’s interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam and spokesperson Syeda Jafri.
The Holocaust was the state-sponsored genocide of approximately 6 million Jews at the hands of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime during World War II.
Denying the existence of the Holocaust is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 17 countries: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Switzerland and Romania.
Holocaust denial is not specifically a crime in the United States, where the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to free speech.