Hair. Shoes. A railroad track. Sophie. Allen.
These are images I hope Beaufort County school students associate with the Holocaust, not the one posted on Facebook last Friday.
That image was of two little fifth-grade boys dressed as Adolf Hitler doing the “Heil Hitler” Nazi salute. It was jarring. The pictures were taken during a “Wax Museum,” a widely used and successful educational tool in which students dress as key figures of history and tell what they have learned about them.
Three photos of the salutes were removed from the Facebook page of Okatie Elementary School near Bluffton following negative public reaction.
But those images took one of the county’s best schools into a bad place, where it had no business going. It was reminiscent of images from the violent, neo-Nazi marches in Charlottesville, Va., just a few months ago.
By late Monday morning, principal Jamie Pinckney posted: “I would like to express my sincere apologies to our community members and parents for any pictures that were posted from our ‘Wax Museum’ presentations last Friday that caused any hurt or offense. It is not and was not our intent to sensationalize or glorify the acts of any of the dictators or public figures represented ... History is not always pretty and nice but we hope by teaching our students about the past it is not repeated.”
Rabbi Brad Bloom of Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island was stunned, and criticized the adults in charge.
Children posing in the salute of a man who killed 6 million Jews is wrong all day every day, regardless of the lessons being taught.
That it came on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day adds to the tone-deaf nature of the images, which poorly reflected how students are actually taught about the Holocaust.
It’s a reminder of what children need to know.
Last month, state Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman was forced to react to a different shocking story in The State newspaper in Columbia: “124 pages. No mention of the ‘Holocaust’? Proposed SC history guidelines raising questions.”
The story told about 124 pages of draft academic standards for 2020. The social studies standards to be taught in public schools did not mention the Holocaust by name.
“South Carolina has a long history of supporting the remembrance of the Holocaust and its victims,” Spearman told the newspaper. “This history and its teachings are supported by tremendous resources that are available to students and educators.”
Today, it appears “Holocaust” has been added to the draft standards.
For example, it includes this standard for fifth graders: “Explain the causes and analyze the effects of World War II (to include the rise of dictators, Nazi policies to eliminate Jews and other minorities, the Holocaust, and the dropping of the atomic bombs).”
Public feedback on the standards via an internet survey will be open through 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5.
These are the Holocaust images I’d like to see in the schools:
▪ The hair. Last year, three local teenagers participated in the March of the Living. They joined thousands of teens from around the world in the annual silent march from the Auschwitz to the Birkenau concentration camps of the Holocaust. They saw a room full of hair that had been cut from the heads of Holocaust victims. That image hit home with the young women. “That’s really, really hard,” one told me. “It’s part of you. That’s such a big identity thing to me. It’s a loss of your identity.”
▪ The shoes. They also saw a room full of maybe 40,000 pairs of dusty shoes. “There were baby shoes and high heels,” one said. “It’s symbolic that it didn’t matter who you were before.”
▪ The railroad tracks. The girls were shaken by their silent walk along railroad tracks, knowing they were used to shuttle humans like cattle to death chambers.
▪ Allen. Allen Kupfer of Sun City Hilton Head survived the Holocaust. His parents and more than 140 members of his family did not. He has told his story in local schools for many years. At 94 1/2, he says he’s currently committed to two talks. He said the students need to be at least 10 years old to benefit. “It’s not my story,” he told me Tuesday. “My story is not important. I talk mostly about hate.”
He said hate will never be elminated, and in today’s battle the world is worse than the Middle Ages. “So we try to tell it for the younger generation,” he said, “because I know personally what hate does.”
▪ Sophie. Sophie Miklos of Hilton Head Island is a Holocaust survivor who also has often spoken in our schools. She has received scores of letters from students who thanked her for making the Holocaust real to them, and for giving them a better appreciation for America.
She has written a lot about her experiences, including the 40 years it took her to come to grips with the Holocaust, and her dream of coming with her husband to America.
“I’ll never forget the pride we felt to see our dream turn to reality,” Sophie writes in an essay called “My American Dream.”
“We both knew that being citizens of the United States was a privilege. We also were aware that the sidewalks in America were not paved with gold. We were honored to work and become productive members of our newly adopted country.”