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Doubting the Holocaust in Boca Raton

A picture taken just after the liberation by the Soviet army in January, 1945, shows a group of children wearing concentration camp uniforms behind barbed wire fencing in the Oswiecim (Auschwitz) Nazi concentration camp. Pasa Balter, fourth from left, who is now known as Paula Lebovics, is 61 and living in Encino, Calif., a survivor who bears the heartbreak of having lost most of her family. Germany on Monday, Jan. 27,1997, observes the country's Holocaust memorial day in memory of victims of the Nazis, which was declared a special day of reflection by President Roman Herzog last year. (AP Photo/CAF pap)

Boca Raton, Florida is one of the capitol cities of the American Diaspora. Its Jewish community, and that of the larger Palm Beach County area, is active, generous, and sophisticated. About a third of the county’s residents are Jewish.

All of which prompts me to ask: What was William  Latson thinking?

Until very recently, Mr. Latson was the principal of Spanish River High School in Boca. It came to light that a year ago, he stated that he had to stay “politically neutral” about the Holocaust and Holocaust education — this, despite the fact that the county teaches about the Holocaust at all grade levels.

This, despite the fact that a certain percentage of his students have grandparents, great-grandparents, or even and especially neighbors who are Holocaust survivors.

In an email communication to a parent who asked  about Holocaust education, he said: “You have your thoughts, but we are a public school and not all of our parents have the same beliefs.”

His words:

Not everyone believes the Holocaust happened…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. I do the same with information about slavery.

Really?

He does the same with information about slavery?

Ever since those remarks came to light, and in the midst of protests, the district has re-assigned Mr. Latson.

The issue here is not that Mr. Latson is a Holocaust denier. Apparently, he isn’t.

The real issue goes deeper than that.

It is about the meaning of education — and even about the meaning of knowledge itself.

Mr. Latson was concerned that there might be  Spanish River parents who don’t think that the Holocaust occurred.

Really? In an upscale community like Boca?

Perhaps. Because money can’t fix stupid. After all, a recent study indicates that a frighteningly significant percentage of Americans don’t believe that the Holocaust  occurred.

Or, they don’t want to believe it.

It is safe to say that those who deny the Holocaust are simply Jew-haters.

That is the real issue here. Mr. Latson somehow thought that it was his duty not to disturb the prejudices of the haters.

For Mr. Latson, political concerns (what the bigoted parents thought of him) overruled both the teaching of truth (that the Holocaust happened) and the teaching of tolerance.

Because someone might be offended.

In Boca Raton.

The real issue is not Holocaust denial per se, though that is certainly the presenting problem.

It is that educators must be careful of what they teach — not that they might get the facts wrong, but that the facts might offend the willfully-ignorant.

Did you ever think that some would believe that the Holocaust is, ahem, “fake news?”

Me, neither.

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.