N.y.c. School Board Officials Refuse to Bow to Demands for Dropping Experimental Curriculum on Holoc
Menu JTA Search

N.y.c. School Board Officials Refuse to Bow to Demands for Dropping Experimental Curriculum on Holoc

Download PDF for this date

New York City Board of Education officials say they have no intention of agreeing to demands from German-American and Arab-American spokesmen for withdrawal of plans for an experimental curriculum on the Holocaust which may lead to mandatory courses in the city’s high schools next year.

The board introduced last Thursday a curriculum guide on the Holocaust as a case study of genocide and held a three-hour meeting at its headquarters in Brooklyn for reactions to elements of the curriculum.

A board spokesman said the two-volume experimental curriculum was developed to help teachers at the city’s more than 250 intermediate, junior and senior high schools develop units of study, as well as mini-courses and some electives so that students could learn about the Holocaust and the ramifications of that event.

Stephen R. Aiello, Board of Education president said the project and the board decision to test it on an experimental basis during the 1977-78 school year originated with Dr. Seymour Lachman, the former board president. It was strongly endorsed at a press conference Thursday, at which the project was announced, by Irving Anker, the school board chancellor. The curriculum was prepared by the board’s division of educational planning and support, which is headed by Dr. Arnold Webb, its executive director.


The foreword to the curriculum said “the history of mankind includes several major episodes of human tragedy: the religious persecution of early Christians in the Roman Empire and Jews in medieval Europe; the enslavement of Blacks in America; the exile of native American Indians from their homelands; the extermination of the Armenians in modern Turkey, the starvation and exile of defeated people in recent wars in Biafra and Bangladesh.”

Webb said that the Holocaust had been chosen for the curriculum because, “in this tragic chapter in human history, the intent and scope of mass murder are unprecedented.” He said the Holocaust was “a painful subject for young people and their teachers” and that “it is almost too serious for classroom study. Yet the horror of genocide in the Twentieth Century must be faced, and the story must be told so that students of all races and religions in our public schools can understand the danger confronting all peoples when human rights are denied to any one people.”

Volume I of the curriculum, in outline form, presents seven major themes, including the position of the Jews in Europe before World War II; the Nazi rise to power; the debasement of German society by racism and anti-Semitism and the resulting genocide murders; how the Nazis carried out those policies; how the victims tried to maintain human dignity in a system designed to dehumanize and destroy them; the response of the rest of the world to their plight; and how study of the Holocaust can contribute to a more humane world.


Aiello and Anker said, at the press conference, that the subject of Nazi persecution of European Jews is often only touched on in history and other social studies courses. The new curriculum, of which 1500 copies were prepared, is scheduled for distribution to all of the city’s 100 high schools by the end of the month. Its goal, they said, is to enable teachers to extend the study of the Holocaust.

Aiello said that, after the initial year of experimentation, in which the curriculum will be applied in all history and other social studies courses, he would like to have the board and the chancellor arrange for a mandated minimum of two weeks of study of the Holocaust in the city school system. This would involve the State Board of Regents, it was noted, since the Board of Education is under state control.

The spokesman said the school system must abide by minimum requirements set by the state but can mandate additional requirements. He cited a mandatory course in economics which is not part of the state mandated course of study.

The spokesman told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that if Holocaust study is made a mandatory course–presumably for the 1978-79 school year–this will be done in the form of integrating appropriate elements of the curriculum into history and social studies courses. He said it did not mean that students would be required to take courses devoted entirely to the Holocaust.


Dropping of the proposed course was demanded by George Pape, president of the German-American Committee of Greater New York, described as a cultural organization; and by M.T. Mehdi, president of the American-Arab Relations Committee, who called the experiment “an attempt by the Zionists to use the city educational system for their evil propaganda purposes.” A similar course introduced recently in Philadelphia was criticized by the German-American Committee of Greater Philadelphia on grounds it stressed Nazi atrocities while avoiding other examples of genocide.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Committee of Greater New York, said Pape’s “revisionist approach” to history “only underscores the urgent need for Holocaust education in our schools,” a reference to a reported statement by Pape that there was “no real proof” the Holocaust ever happened.

Anker, responding to Pape’s reported demand that the school board either drop the Holocaust project or add to it the study of slavery and other genocidal acts, said he was “shocked” that anyone would object to the plan to expand the study of the Holocaust in the city’s public schools, which is now being taught in some schools at the initiative of particular teachers. Anker said there is now an extensive study of Black slavery in America in the city school program.


In a related development, a three-day conference on teaching about genocide and the Holocaust is being held at the Sheraton Conference Center at La Guardia Airport. The conference, which is being attended by some 200 educators from the United States and overseas, is sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith and the National Council for the Social Studies. Among those attending are representatives of the West German Government, the Italian Ministry of Education in Rome, the Polish Embassy in Washington, Ben Gurlon University in Israel and a Sister of the Society of the Holy Child in Nigeria.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund