NEW YORK (VINnews) — A staff member at a school in Washington D.C. was suspended after he made a group of third graders reenact scenes from the Holocaust, including pretending to dig mass graves and shoot victims. The teacher also allegedly told the children that the Germans were angry “because the Jews ruined Christmas,” parents and officials said Sunday.
The incident occurred last Friday at the Watkins Elementary school, according to a report by the Washington Post. The children had been working on a self-directed project when the teacher intervened and made them reenact Holocaust scenes.
In a letter provided to the community on Friday, Watkins Elementary Principal MScott Berkowitz said he was made aware of a lesson that included students “portraying different perspectives of the Holocaust.”
“Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war,” Berkowitz said.
The statement included allegations that a staff member “used hate speech during the lesson.” While the letter did not elaborate on these claims, or the language used, DCPS did issue an apology. The school said that psychologists were assisting the children who participated in the reenactments.
“There was a lot of sobbing and crying and distress and then momentarily we got an email to say that the children had reenacted the Holocaust,” one parent told the Fox5DC TV station. “This included the trains, dying in gas chambers, playing Hitler and mass graves.”
Some children were given specific roles, including one Jewish child who was told to portray Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and then to pretend to commit suicide at the end of the exercise, as Hitler did, the parent of the child told the Washington Post.
Others were told to dig their classmates’ mass graves and simulate shooting the victims.
The instructor also allegedly made antisemitic comments during the reenactment. A parent said that when the children asked why the Germans did this, the staff member said it was “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”
Another student was also allegedly told to pretend to be on a train to a death camp and act as if he was dying in a gas chamber, the child’s parent told the Post, declining to identify themselves or the child. In another scene, he was told to simulate shooting his classmates.
The staff member reportedly told the children not to tell anyone about the activity, but they told their homeroom teacher.
“I think it’s traumatic, this is a terrible corruption of a historical trauma that was inappropriate for eight and nine-year-olds to learn about in this way and I am outraged,” the mother told Fox5DC.
The Anti-Defamation League’s Washington Chapter condemned the incident and said it would be offering “resources and support to help promote healing and education.”
“We’re horrified 3rd-grade students were instructed to re-enact scenes from the Holocaust. Simulation activities trivialize the experience of victims and often reinforce stereotypes,” the ADL said.