An Anti-Defamation League official criticized an assignment given in a New York State high school, in which students debated the Holocaust from a Nazi perspective.
Etzion Neuer, deputy director of the ADL’s New York regional official, said on Friday that he did not believe the teacher who gave out the assignment meant any malice, but it was still “grossly inappropriate.”
According to a report in the Algemeiner, the assignment was titled “Top Secret: Memorandum for Senior Nazi Party Members” and students were asked to simulate the debates that took place at the Wannsee Conference where the final solution was decided. In the assignment, the pupils were asked to explain the “Nazi point of view.”
The Wannsee Conference, held on January 20, 1942, was where the Nazis decided to exterminate European Jewry on an industrial scale in order to deal with the “problem” of the large populations of Jews they acquired in their conquest of eastern Europe.
Neuer told the Algemeiner that he learned of the lesson plan when a student at the school contacted the ADL and expressed “discomfort” at being tasked with presenting an argument in favor of exterminating the Jews, even though the assignment stated that “the point of this activity is not for you to be sympathetic” to the Nazis.
“Ultimately, this is an exercise on expanding your point of view by going outside your comfort zone and training your brain to logistically find the evidence necessary to prove a point, even if it is existentially and philosophically against what you believe,” it read.
Neuer said that the exercise “was less about Holocaust education and more about critical thinking, and that latter purpose is itself absolutely worthwhile, but there are so many controversial and worthwhile topics that could have been used instead of this.”
The class, part of a course on “Principles of Literary Representation,” which in itself is part of a nationwide program allowing high school students to take college-level courses, was first reported on Thursday by a local news website, Syracuse.com.
According to the website, two students were “disturbed” and felt “weird” when the teacher, Michael DeNobile, “randomly assigned half the students to argue for, and half to argue against the extermination of Jews.” One student said she overheard a classmate expressing disappointment at having been assigned to the opposition.
“The school has responsibility to decry and repudiate this. I don’t think this is a fair modality or dialectic for teaching,” Aron Hier, director of campus outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center told the Algemeiner.
“Notwithstanding first amendment protections, the school must decry it and call it for what it is: an act of antisemitism,” Hier added. “This is not about censoring the program, but to say, ‘In our humble opinion, this was unacceptable.’ The teacher should apologize, and the school should host an educational program showing the depravity and barbarism of the Final Solution, and how it affected millions of people.”
Neuer said the ADL has spoken with the commissioner’s office and the school district, and is confident there will be a satisfactory resolution to the issue.