An exam question set by a California school district asking pupils to consider whether the Holocaust wasn’t in fact a “propaganda tool used for political and monetary gain” has sent shock waves across the world’s Jewish communities.
Children in the district of Rialto were asked to write an essay on whether or not they believed the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme”.
Across the airwaves and online, there was shock and revulsion as families, educators and commentators lined up to condemn the exercise in the strongest manner.
“Put simply, this is the greatest victory for Holocaust denial in over a decade,” wrote Deborah E. Lipstadt, author of ‘The Eichmann Trial’ and Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies at Emory University.
The full assignment for 8th–grade students, which was published online, says: “When tragic events occur in history, there is often debate about their actual existence. For example, some people claim the Holocaust is not an actual event, but instead is a propaganda tool that was used for political and monetary gain.”
It continues: “You will read and discuss multiple, credible articles on this issue, and write an argumentative essay, based upon cited textual evidence, in which you explain whether or not you believe this was an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth.”
Finally, students are told to “remember to address counter-claims (rebuttals) to your stated claim”.
“This is absolutely stunning,” said blogger Brad Greenberg. “The dream of Holocaust deniers everywhere is to start a debate over whether the Holocaust really happened the way history says it did. And the Rialto school district teed it up for them.”
Despite the uproar, the Rialto Unified School District initially defended the set question, saying it was merely to teach students to evaluate the quality of evidence made by advocates or opponents of an issue.
But a chorus of disapproval from local community leaders and politicians led the district to reconsider and cancel the exam, with Sen. Marty Block, chair of the California Legislative Jewish Caucus, welcoming the decision.
“It is abhorrent to me that students would be asked to question whether the Holocaust occurred,” he said, adding that the assignment “trivialised a painful and despicable episode in human history that is well-documented”.
He added: “There are countless controversial issues open to robust debate that can test students’ critical thinking skills. The reality of the Holocaust is not one of them.”