Omaha, Nebraska (WOWT) — The Westside Community School District is apologizing after a staff member displayed a quote from Adolf Hitler in a school hallway at Westside Middle School Monday. The staff member’s intent is not publicly known.
The quote read, “The man who has no sense of history is like a man with no ears or eyes.” In a statement, the district says it was displayed in an 8th grade hallway area.
Superintendent Mike Lucas and the school principal Kim Eymann notified students and families in the entire school district to make them aware of the situation.
The letter said they were concerned and upset that students and staff saw the quote. They were unable to share details about how it was being handled internally since it became a personnel matter. They assured that the situation was being dealt with through a high level of accountability and urgency.
The letter proceeded to explain how the situation was being handled from this point on:
Today, we used our morning announcements time and 30-minute homeroom period in all classrooms to discuss the severity of this situation. The context of what we read/discussed is shown below.
Good Morning Students! Yesterday a quote from Adolf Hitler was displayed on a board in one of our hallways. This is not acceptable here at WMS and we sincerely apologize for the insensitivity this showed to our Jewish population and to other students.
We want to talk about why this is a hard topic and why it is considered insensitive. Hitler used hatred of others, particularly Jews, to stoke nationalism and grab control of the German government. He and his followers blamed Jews for all sorts of societal problems when in fact Jews bore no responsibility for these problems. Using that justification, the German government proceeded to terrorize Jews and others not considered of pure German descent in increasingly more violent ways until it became acceptable in Germany to dehumanize and totally oppress them.
As Hitler’s armies rolled across Europe in search of more power and resources, the German government relegated Jews and other ethnic groups to labor and death camps all across Europe. By the time WWII ended with the Allies defeat of Germany, it is estimated that approximately 6 million Jews were killed in German campaigns and death camps, a huge proportion of the world’s Jewish population died at the hands of Hitler’s disgusting actions.
The ethnic-based intimidation and mass killings marked one of the worst and deadliest eras in all of humanity. It is why the Holocaust, and the rise of Hitler and World War II Germany, are sensitive topics to Jews, Germans and most anyone who lived through that era.
We ask a lot of questions about how someone could lead such a terrible movement, how so many Germans and others could be compelled to “go along” with it, even though it had previously been a relatively peaceful nation. We ask if something like this could happen again and vow that it never will.
To ensure that a leader like Hitler does not rise again, we study the history and ask these questions, but after our discussion this morning, I hope you can understand why it is also a sensitive topic for Jews and others and why we struggle to talk about it. This is why we shouldn’t glorify what Hitler said or taught, and why we should be careful about the learnings we take away from this person and those times. This is why we apologized to you.
Since last year, we have also been working with the Anti-Defamation League of Omaha (ADL) as we work on inclusivity across our school district. We have many plans in place for next year for student workshops, professional development for staff, and community forums for parents/community. However, we need to do things NOW as well, despite the challenges of COVID-19.
The ADL helped us determine some appropriate videos and talking points to share with our students in all homerooms for the rest of the week, Wednesday – Friday. One of the video resources is linked below for your review in hopes you might further the discussion at home. We will have students use “question cards” where they can write down questions and we will work with ADL experts to respond to these to keep the conversation and education going.
We had already enrolled in the ADL “Week of Understanding” the week of March 22nd-26th where our students and staff will listen to Holocaust survivor speakers. We are looking forward to this opportunity to learn and grow as a school and community.
We will continue to work hard to promote inclusivity, respect, and dignity for all. Our path to perfecting this will not always be a straight line. We will assuredly make mistakes, but we will do our best to correct them, learn from them, have the hard conversations to resolve them and ultimately grow from them. We believe that this is the only way to make sure that everyone feels welcome in our school and our District.
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