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Central history teacher claims Nazi gas chambers were not “used for killing”

Passover begins today. Without hammering away at religious details, it can be said that this sacred holiday celebrates Jewish survival. In January, people from all over the world acknowledged the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp — another reason that the celebration of survival during Passover is still relevant.

Today, on the beginning of Passover, we received an awful tip from a reader. She’s the mother of a student at Champaign Central High School and the student told her that a history teacher did not acknowledge many atrocities of the Holocaust. The student gave Smile Politely a statement describing how this came to light:

In History class on Wednesday, April 1st, my class was working on an essay to close out our unit on ancient India. The student sitting directly behind me asked the teacher about his opinions on the Holocaust.  It should be noted that weeks before this incident, rumors have been floating around the school that the same teacher did not believe in the Holocaust, period, which is likely why this student asked the question. He proceeded to explain how he believed that the Holocaust was not a planned mass-murder of the Jews. He claimed to have seen sources saying that Hitler had been speaking with France of moving all Jewish people out of Europe to another country (such as Madagascar). Furthermore, he told us (and by us, I mean the small group of students in that area, including me – not the whole class) that he has seen video of parties in concentration camps and using this as proof, although any video like that would be Nazi propaganda almost certainly. Outrageously, he proceeded to say that, “the gas chambers have too much ventilation to be used for killing”. He insisted they were used to clean prisoners of things like lice. He also questioned the use of a medical center being in camps if they were to be used to kill prisoners. In another outrageous statement, he made an argument about how there is no way they could burn six million bodies in the crematoriums, not once mentioning how there were open pit fires and how not every body was burned. He didn’t seem to acknowledge the other five million victims, also. He also used Anne Frank’s death from typhus as another reason for his argument. His basic idea was that the mass murder of millions was not planned. Never once mentioning ‘The Final Solution’ or the Einsatzgruppen (Mobile Killing Squads). Despite the date, this was not an April Fools joke, as I found out the next day just after class.

It is truly appalling that a history teacher, no less, could believe this and be teaching this class. Although we are not studying this era in history and we won’t be doing so at any time, as we are in Ancient History, it is concerning. If this teacher believes this, what other things like this might he believe? Is there a similar denial kind of thing with another period of history, and especially ancient history? It’s awful that a history teacher is the one believing this, especially. It brings up the questions beforehand. I am concerned about that, the idea he might have some other belief similar to this one that affects the classroom. Just last year in 8th Grade, our grade did a huge unit on the Holocaust that took up weeks of class. Most students should hopefully know what actually happened and not what my teacher told us because of that whole unit. No matter what, though, this is appalling. I am shocked he is able to teach us with this kind of belief as a history teacher. His idea of having the students do their own research and have our own opinions does not matter in this case. That kind of belief for a history teacher is disgusting.

The parent exchanged emails with Principal Joe Williams and the teacher regarding this discussion in the classroom. You can read the parent’s statement at the below.

The teacher defended his position by saying the following:

That based on my own study of the historical evidence, that Hitler, who was vehemently anti-Semitic, forcibly put Jews and other people he considered “undesirable” into concentration camps. These concentration camps were horrific places due to cruelty from the guards, little to no food, as well as extreme overcrowding that led to the rabid transmission of deadly diseases in those conditions, such as typhus.

One of the students in that group asked me about the use of gas chambers. To this I replied that: Based off of my own study of the subject, I personally do not believe that gas chambers were used for killing, but rather for delousing which would have been needed due to the extreme overcrowding which lice, which spreads typhus, thrives on. That doesn’t take away from the fact that people had to undergo inhumane situations or that millions of people were murdered in the name of anti-Semitism and discrimination.

Though there’s an acknowledgement of anti-Semitism, this is really not much more than Nazi sympathizing. It’s hard to hear that an educator would say these things and it’d be tougher to indict this person in a court of public opinion without any basis in fact. Unfortunately, we have the full email exchange between the parent and the educator (which you can read below).

We’ve tried to learn more about the situation and reached out to Unit 4 and the teacher about what occurred. The teacher has not responded and Unit 4 Spokesperson Stephanie Stuart released this statement:

District and Central administration are aware of the concern raised yesterday by a parent. Principal Williams is actively communicating with the parent to address the concerns raised.

It’s unfathomable that this kind of revisionist history gets taught to young minds in any community, but it hurts us more because it’s happening in our own backyard. The evidence that states that gas chambers were used for killing is abundant and the evidence suggesting that it was more than just bad treatment that caused the death of Jews and other groups during the Holocaust.

With that said, the gas chamber-as-delousing facility is a common myth perpetuated by the Holocaust denier community. That does not excuse this.

A slogan that was taught to me and many others when we learned about the atrocities during World War II was “Never again.” That’s something that we need to continue teaching our students. Champaign Central High School should think about using that slogan regarding this educator’s right to teach young minds.

We’re not interested in publishing the names of the parties involved because it’s a sensitive matter and has far reaching implications. But teaching this type of misinformation and the blatant nature with which facts are disregarded by an educator is dangerous. It’s dangerous not to acknowledge that this is a problem for our students. We felt compelled as a publication to publish the emails because this sort of educational interaction is something that we can, again, all be learning from.

Full statement from the student’s parent:

I got home from work the other day and my 15 year old immediately began spouting off about his day at school. He said there had been rumor going around about one of his teachers not believing in the Holocaust, so in his class that day, another student asked the teacher about it. The teacher then began telling this group of high school freshman that he didn’t believe that Jews had been killed in the gas chambers during the Holocaust, and went on to elaborate.  I of course immediately questioned my son, thinking he must have misunderstood. I stared at him shock and then finally, with great relief, I remembered that it was April Fool’s Day. I told my son it must have been an April Fool’s joke— a tasteless one, but a joke just the same. He said he didn’t think so I asked him to find out the next day.  I told him this was his most important assignment that day. The next day he texted to say that he had asked his teacher and no, it was not an April Fool’s joke. I was so astounded by this that I didn’t even know quite what to do. I contacted the teacher and he confirmed this belief, saying that the gas chambers were just used for delousing.

I am passionate about history and how it benefits mankind.  Without knowing our history we could very well make the same mistakes again and again. Even knowing history, our society makes plenty of mistakes. I pray that a mistake of this magnitude and horror is not made again but that likelihood is weakened by the kind of revisionist history that ignores historical fact. It makes my blood run cold. And I can’t quite express how sad I am that our children are hearing this. My child is one to question things and came home irate, but how many other just heard this and shrugged, thinking it was as likely the truth as anything else?

I am not Jewish, but I am human, and I am appalled. The thought of a Jewish student sitting in this classroom horrifies me even more. This denial of basic facts about the Holocaust can NOT be permitted in our public schools. The principal has told me he will address the situation. I am grateful, as it is crucial that Unit 4 immediately respond to this situation for the sake of our children and society.

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