The Holocaust is a fact in the broad sweep of history, like Germany’s invasion of Poland in 1939, Japan’s bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941, the Soviet Union’s occupation of Afghanistan in 1979, or Iraq’s incursion into Iran in 1980.
The truth of these events is never questioned, yet the veracity of the Holocaust is debunked in some blinkered quarters despite compelling evidence to the contrary.
Nazi Germany left behind tons of incriminating documents attesting to the Final Solution. German perpetrators and their accomplices have spoken candidly of their role in the destruction of European Jewish communities. Witnesses who saw this unprecedented tragedy unfold have delivered damning testimonies. Survivors have told their terrible tales in speeches and memoirs. Photographers have documented it in gruesome detail. Historians and journalists have unearthed voluminous information and written an avalanche of scholarly books about virtually every aspect of the Holocaust. Museums have mounted exhibits about it.
And on a personal note, I can draw on the stories of my late parents, David and Genia, who survived the terrors of the Lodz ghetto and of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp in Poland, and who occasionally relived their respective ordeals by telling their children and grandchildren about their unimaginable experiences.
So the Holocaust, which claimed the lives of six million Jews, is as viscerally and emotionally real as any horrific event in the checkered annals of human civilization. It is not something one debates. It happened, period. Only Holocaust deniers and antisemites try to argue that the Holocaust is a cynical figment of the Jewish imagination.
That I am writing these words is shocking. But I am putting pen to paper because I must.
A few days ago, the principal of Spanish River Community High School in Boca, Raton, Florida, William Latson, was relieved of his duties and reassigned to another position in the Palm Beach county school board because of what it described as “a grave error in judgment.”
Latson, in an email exchange with a student’s parent in April 2018, insinuated that the Holocaust was effectively unproven and that he was duty bound to stay “politically neural” about it.
As he wrote, “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual historical event because I am not in a position to do so as a school district employee. I do allow information about the Holocaust to be presented and allow students and parents to make decisions about it accordingly.”
Latson, an African-American, added, “I do the same with information about slavery.”
Predictably, Latson’s inane comments, which were recently published by The Palm Beach Post, set off a furor in a school district where Jews account for about one-third of the population.
After the Post story appeared, Latson issued an apology: “I regret that the verbiage that I used when responding to an email from a parent … did not accurately reflect my professional and personal commitment to educating all students about the atrocities of the Holocaust.”
On the recommendation of the school board, he agreed to be counselled at special meetings and spent several days at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. to increase his awareness of the Shoah.
But due to public pressure in a county with one of the highest concentrations of Holocaust survivors in the United States, the chairman of the school board, Frank A. Barbieri Jr., decided that Latson’s remarks were so damaging and distracting that he had no alternative but to remove him from his job.
“Every generation must recognize, and learn from, the atrocities of the Holocaust’s incomprehensible suffering and the enduring stain that it left on humankind, Barbieri wrote in justifying Latson’s removal. “It is only through high quality education, and thought provoking conversations, that history won’t repeat itself.”
Latson’s astonishing ignorance, unfortunately, is hardly unique. Surveys have shown that a relatively large proportion of Americans know precious little about the Holocaust. But a senior educator like Latson has an obligation to be knowledgeable about it. And when he questions its very veracity something is very amiss.
The latest news in this sorry saga is that Latson may lose his job altogether. The superintendent of Palm Beach County, Donald Fennoy, released a videotaped statement on July 10 saying he is recommending that the school board not renew Latson’s contract when it expires next June. Local members of the U.S. Congress, including Senator Rick Scott, have also called for Latson’s sacking.
Given Latson’s apology, it is debatable whether he should be fired. But shockingly ill-informed comments like his about the Holocaust are absolutely intolerable and cross every red line.