Third Graders Are "Traumatized" After Being Forced To Reenact The Holocaust

Students were allegedly directed to dig mass graves, simulate executions, and pretend to choke to death in gas chambers in what D.C. Public Schools has deemed an unauthorized lesson.

by Morgan Brinlee

Third graders at a Washington, D.C. elementary school were allegedly directed to reenact scenes from the Holocaust by a school staff member. As part of the exercise, a Jewish student was reportedly cast as Adolf Hitler and instructed to pretend to commit suicide, according to media reports. Other students were reportedly directed to dig mass graves, simulate executions, and pretend to die in a gas chamber. A spokesperson from D.C. Public Schools tells Romper the staff member in question has been placed on leave pending an investigation.

“This was not an approved lesson plan, and we sincerely apologize to our students and families who were subjected to this incident,” a spokesperson for D.C. Public Schools tells Romper. “Students should never be tasked with acting out any atrocity, especially genocide and war.”

Third graders in a library class at Watkins Elementary School were reportedly stopped from working on self-directed research projects last Friday and instead told to reenact various aspects of the Holocaust by a school staff member who has yet to be identified. After casting one student as Adolf Hitler, the staff member told some children to dig mass graves while others simulated shooting those assigned to play victims, The Washington Post reported an email sent to parents by the school’s principal revealed. At least one student was told to pretend to be riding a train to a concentration camp where they were then directed to pretend to die in a gas chamber, one parent told the newspaper.

In a statement issued Monday, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum condemned the incident and accused the involved educator of failing to show respect for Holocaust victims and survivors. “Teaching Holocaust history requires sensitivity of the complexity of the subject,” a statement from the museum read. “Creating and exploiting reenactments for students of any age or purpose is irresponsible and shows a lack of respect for the victims and survivors.”

But according to D.C. Public Schools, failing to teach Holocaust history with sensitivity may not have been the only issue with Friday’s unauthorized lesson. “There were allegations of a staff member using hate speech during the lesson, which is unacceptable and not tolerated at any of our schools,” the D.C. Public Schools spokesperson tells Romper without disclosing further details. Romper has reached out to the principal of Watkins Elementary School for additional comment.

The parent of one child forced to participate in Friday’s Holocaust reenactment told The Post the staff member in charge told the children the Holocaust happened “because the Jews ruined Christmas.”

Although the third-grade Watkins Elementary students were reportedly told by the staff member to keep the reenactment a secret, CNN has reported students notified their homeroom teacher of what had happened. Additionally, some students were also still visibly distressed by the lesson when their parents came to pick them up from school.

"My husband picked up our child after school and there was a lot of sobbing and crying and distress," one parent told Fox5 News.

“They are traumatized,” the parent continued in reference to the third-grade class. “One parent said that their child was worried the teacher in question was hiding at their house. Children are having nightmares and generally having a very hard time.”

According to Fox5, students have met with the school’s mental health counselors and the staff member in question has been placed on leave. “We have launched an investigation, and students are being supported by our DCPS Comprehensive Alternative Resolution & Equity Team,” a spokesperson for the district tells Romper. “DC Public Schools is committed to creating a welcoming environment for all students.”