D.C. school apologizes after third-grade students told to reenact scenes from Holocaust

The class was told to simulate digging mass graves, shooting their fellow classmates, and one student was assigned the role of Adolf Hitler

Updated: December 20, 2021 - 10:17am

An instructor at Watkins Elementary School in Washington D.C. told third-graders to reenact scenes from the Holocaust, including directing the children to simulate shooting victims and digging the mass graves of their classmates, according to a letter from the principal and interviews with parents.

The instructor was placed on leave Friday, pending an investigation, after allegedly assigning specific roles to students. One child (reportedly a Jewish student) was tasked with playing Adolf Hitler, and asked at the end of the exercise to pretend to commit suicide, as Hitler did, according to the letters and interviews The Washington Post did with parents. 

"I want to acknowledge the gravity of this poor instructional decision, as students should never be asked to act out or portray any atrocity, especially genocide, war, or murder," wrote MScott Berkowitz, the school's principal, in an email to parents. 

One parent, whose child was part of the simulation, said her son was asked to pretend to be on a train en route to a concentration camp, and then pretend as though he were dying in a gas chamber.

The instructor allegedly made several antisemitic comments during the exercise, including telling students that the Germans conducted the Holocaust "because the Jews ruined Christmas," the Post reported. 

Following the reenactment, the instructor asked that the students not tell anyone about it. But, the group of eight-and-nine year-olds told their homeroom teacher, the newspaper said.

A spokesperson for D.C. Public Schools emphasized the exercise was "not an approved lesson plan," adding that the DCPS "sincerely apologize(s) to our students and families who were subjected to this incident." 

According to Berkowitz, the entire class met with the Watkins Elementary mental health response team following the incident.