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Debacle over House Historian Reaffirms Holocaust Education

January 10, 1995
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The rise and fall of the House of Representatives historian who opposed funding a Holocaust education program for not reflecting “the Nazi point of view” may well strengthen the hand of Holocaust education, advocates say.

Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) has garnered widespread support for his quick decision to dismiss Christina Jeffrey, who had opposed the curriculum, “Facing History and Ourselves,” while serving as an Education Department consultant in 1986.

Gingrich fired Jeffrey, his hand-picked choice for the post, on Monday, just hours after learning she had labeled the middle school and high school Holocaust curriculum biased.

“The program gives no evidence of balance or objectivity,” Jeffrey wrote at the time.

“The Nazi point of view, however unpopular, is still a point of view and is not presented, nor is that of the Ku Klux Klan,” she wrote.

In a letter to the speaker, the Anti-Defamation League was among the first of many Jewish groups to praise Gingrich for his “swift and decisive action.”

Despite his praise for Gingrich, however, ADL national director Abraham Foxman sounded alarms that Jeffrey could have reached such an important position in Washington in the first place.

“That there are people who reach posts of such importance and influence underlines the need for Holocaust education,” Foxman said.

Benjamin Meed, president of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, agreed.

“More and more, this signals the need for proper Holocaust education,” Meed said, noting that the Holocaust survivors’ group currently has 435 teachers certified in its own holocaust education program.

Although only a handful of states currently mandate Holocaust education, students currently learn about the Holocaust to varying degrees in every state, according to Holocaust education advocates.

Meed also praised Gingrich for firing Jeffrey.

“We are very appreciative that the speaker acted so fast and understood that there is no place for giving ample time to the devil. And that’s what she is,” Meed said.

“This sends an important message that there’s no place for this type of view in the country,” he added.

Rabbi Marvin Heir, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center agreed, saying, “There’s only one place for her and that’s out of the House of Representatives.

That Jeffrey slipped through the cracks has raised the eyebrows of many on Capitol Hill, in the White House and in the Jewish community.

“Someone did not do their homework,” said Michael Berenbaum, project director at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Gingrich met Jeffrey at Kennesaw State College in Georgia, where she was an associate professor and where she supported a controversial college course the speaker has taught.

A Gingrich spokesman said the speaker did not know Jeffrey’s views on the Holocaust education program and fired her as soon as he found out about her remarks.

Jeffrey, whose maiden name was Price, went undetected by activists who now vividly recall her critique of the “Facing History” program in 1986.

The program “may be appropriate for a limited religious audience, but not for wider distribution,” she then wrote.

Jeffrey concluded her 1986 review of the education program, saying: “It is a paradoxical and strange aspect of this program and the methods used to change the thinking of students is the same that Hitler and Goebbels used to propagandize the German people.

“This re-education methods was perfected by Chairman Mao and now is being foisted on American children under the guise of understanding history,” she wrote.

At the time, Education Department officials labeled her evaluation “appalling” and Jeffrey was removed from the list of teachers called upon to evaluate curricula.

For three years in the mid-1980s, the Education Department denied funding for the Holocaust curriculum, in part because of consultants opposed to the curricula and because of right-wing groups, such as Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, which objected to the program.

However, due to persistent congressional support for the grants, the program finally broke through in 1989 and began to receive federal funds, which continue until today.

A national educational organization based in Brookline, Mass., which has the same name as its program, has trained 15,000 teachers since its inception in 1976. Those teachers have reached 500,000 new students each year, according to Erica Stern, a staffer with the group.

Officials at Facing History and Ourselves refused to comment on the Jeffrey controversy.

According to congressional aides, a senior White House official tipped them off to Jeffrey’s background.

It’s “hard to imagine how someone with these extreme views would have been considered in the first place, but the speaker quickly recognized that and made a decision that strikes us as appropriate,” press secretary Michael McCurry said Tuesday.

Gingrich sent Jeffrey a letter dated Monday, 9:15 p.m., in which he wrote, “I do not feel that it would be prudent nor beneficial for you or your family, nor the House of Representatives, to continue your employment at this time.”

The hand-written letter was signed “your friend Newt.”

Jeffrey was quoted by The New York Times on Monday, saying, “It wasn’t the kind of thing I would have said if I had known it was going to be in the New York Times.

“It has never been my position that you ought to be going out and finding the KKK and bringing them into middle-school classrooms.”

She also told the Times that she didn’t “know anything about the Holocaust.”

After being ousted on Tuesday, Jeffrey charged in a written statement that she is the victim of “slanderous and outrageous” charges.

But advocates said the record speaks for itself.

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