The group Washington DC Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors (3GDC) on Tuesday sent a letter to Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee, the Chancellor of DC Public Schools (DCPS), in response to the events last week at Watkins Elementary 3GDC President Elana Rosenfield wrote: “Hearing directly from those whose families survived the Holocaust and can share firsthand witness accounts is the best way to personalize lessons about this period in history for children.”
The Washington Post reported on Sunday that a staff librarian at the Watkins Elementary School at 420 12th Street, SE in Washington, DC was put on leave last Friday for instructing third-graders during her library class to reenact scenes from the Holocaust, which included digging mass graves for their fellow students, making believe they were suffocating from the Zyklon B gas, and one of them, a Jewish student, playing the role of Adolf Hitler all the way to the bunker suicide scene (DC School Librarian on Leave for Making 3rd Graders Reenact Scenes from the Holocaust).
3GDC says it empowers “third-generation survivors in our nation’s capital and the greater Washington region by creating space to share our common experience and elevating the voice of our unique constituency.”
Their mission statement declares: “Ours is the bridge generation between the grandparents who helped raise and teach us and the future generations who will only know them through our memories. 3GDC will ensure that the lessons of the Holocaust and its stories of heroism and humanity will not only be passed down through books, art, or film but in the voices and memories of those whose families forever bear living witness to history.”
In her letter to Chancellor Ferebee, Rosenfield noted:
We were greatly disturbed by the news of what happened recently at the Watkins Elementary School, where third graders were instructed to re-enact the Holocaust in a way that was inappropriate, antisemitic, and counteractive to the kind of inclusive and nurturing mission of the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS).
We were also dismayed to hear about the swastikas previously found at Woodrow Wilson High School along with other racist graffiti. We understand that you and your staff are already taking steps to address these incidents, which must never be allowed to be repeated anywhere in DCPS. Sadly, however, they reflect an alarming rise in both antisemitism and Holocaust denial in our country that has corresponded to a decrease in understanding and awareness of the Holocaust and its place in history.
She then offered a remedy:
It is because of the kind of ignorance that fuels these incidents that 3GDC has taken up the mission of continuing the work of our grandparents, who survived the Holocaust and bore firsthand witness to its horrors and its lessons, by arranging for trained speakers to support the work of teachers in classrooms in our area. Our volunteers are ready to share their grandparents’ first-hand accounts of the Holocaust through engaging and age-appropriate presentations. These are designed as a supplement—not a substitute—for teacher-led Holocaust curricula and serve as an invaluable add-on to help students connect more personally with the lessons of the Holocaust when teachers reach that part of their curricula. We believe that 3GDC and DCPS can work together to help students understand the Holocaust and learn about the need to confront and overcome bigotry, racism, and intolerance in our day.
One day after the Washington Post article had come out, 3GDC posted on their Facebook page:
*THIS* is our backyard! This devastating incident at Watkins Elementary School in Washington, DC is precisely why we need to send our trained 3G speakers into local schools to bear witness for our grandparents. If 3Gs in the DC area are interested in getting trained and sharing their families’ stories, please reach out. We can provide you with avenues you can take to learn to tell your grandparents’ stories. If you are a 3G in the DC area who is already a trained speaker, PLEASE reach out to volunteer. Now is not the time to sit back with complacency! Finally, if you are a local teacher who would be interested in having a trained 3G speaker come speak to your students or faculty, please reach out. We believe it is our honor and privilege to be able to share our grandparents’ stories in the name of “Never Again.”
Will 3GDC succeed in educating DC schoolchildren about the lessons of the Holocaust? Will it be reflected in lower incidents of antisemitism in the future? One can only hope.