The deputy director of a major Jewish organization criticized an assignment at a New York State high school asking students to role-play Nazis debating the Final Solution.
Etzion Neuer, of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional office, told The Algemeiner on Friday that though he does not believe that the teacher who assigned “Top Secret: Memorandum for Senior Nazi Party Members” — in which students were asked to simulate the debate that took place at the infamous Wannsee Conference and explain their “Nazi point of view” — was ill-intentioned, it was nevertheless “grossly inappropriate.”
Neuer said he learned of the lesson plan when a student contacted the ADL to “convey discomfort” at having to present an argument for the resolving the Jewish question — 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, “This 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, which was part of a “Principles of Literary Representation” course offered through a countywide program that allows high school students to take college-level courses, was first reported on Thursday by local news site Syracuse.com. According to the report, two students were “disturbed” and felt “weird” when teacher Michael DeNobile “randomly assigned half the students to argue for, and half to argue against the extermination of Jews.” One of the students said she overheard a classmate expressing disappointment at having been assigned to the opposition.
Aron Hier, director of campus outreach at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner, “The school has responsibility to decry and repudiate this. I don’t think this is a fair modality or dialectic for teaching.”
“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.”
In a recording obtained by The Algemeiner, the commissioner of education for New York State, MaryEllen Elia, was asked what she thinks about the Oswego “students [who] felt uncomfortable defending the Holocaust.” Elia responded, “I don’t know the circumstances of that,” adding that she is not aware of “how that [the assignment] was presented to students, what were the thought processes that went through, or the preparation the teacher had in making the students aware of the situations that occurred in Nazi Germany, and the positions.”
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.
(c) 2017, The Algemeiner . Rachel Frommer