TENAFLY, N.J. — Residents expressed shock over the weekend about a student-written biography of Adolf Hitler that hung in the Maugham Elementary School for weeks.
The fifth-grade assignment also included the student dressing as Hitler, according to the parent of another student whose account was shared online.
The one-page bio, written in the Nazi leader’s voice, was displayed in the elementary school’s hallway with similar assignments from other students starting in April, according to Lori Birk of Englewood, who posted a picture of the report on Facebook.
“My greatest accomplishment was uniting a great mass of German and Austrian people behind me,” the student wrote in pencil on a paper circle titled “Accomplishments.”
The essay also noted, “I was very popular and many people followed me until I died. My belif [sic] in antisemitism drove me to kill more than 6 million Jews.”
In a letter posted on the district website Sunday, Superintendent Shauna DeMarco said she learned Friday of “a serious matter involving a school project completed recently on Adolf Hitler.”
“I have requested that all associated information related to this project be provided to me,” DeMarco wrote to parents and staff. “Once I receive and review the full information, I will determine any further action that should be taken.”
DeMarco declined a request for additional information Monday, telling The Record and NorthJersey.com, part of the USA TODAY Network, she could not comment without potentially compromising “the integrity of the investigation, the rights of those involved and any responsive actions that may be required.”
The investigation will resume on Tuesday, the superintendent said, promising that it would be “concluded as swiftly as possible.”
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Birk said she got her information from the parent of another fifth-grade student at Maugham. The student was in a different class, but “they still had to walk down the hall and see it,” the Englewood woman said in an interview.
The parent said the work was part of a teacher-approved “character development” project for the entire class, according to Birk.
“It was up for at least two weeks,” she said.
Birk’s Facebook post drew angry responses from the community.
“How is this possible in [one] of the most Israeli towns in the country?” Jodi Karsch Cohen commented. “I am disgusted.”
Joshua Tenzer wrote that the student report represented a “wake up call for Jews.”
“We’ll always be different no matter the 21st-century enlightened calls for universal values of blindness to difference,” he posted.
“This is a county filled with children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors,” Birk wrote. “As there are fewer survivors still alive, we must remember and teach our children the atrocities of this monster and not his ‘Accomplishments.’ “
The student’s complete essay, as seen on the wall, is as follows:
“My greatest accomplishment was uniting a great mass of German and Austrian people behind me. I rose to power as the leader of the Nazi party, becoming chancellor in 1933 and then assuming the title of Führer and Reichskanzler in 1934. I was pretty great, wasn’t I? I was very popular and many people followed me until I died. My belif in antisemitism drove me to kill more than 6 million Jews.”
Jordan Shenker, CEO of Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly, said, “This incident further illustrates the need for increased awareness in our community about the harmful impact our words and actions can have on others.
“Regardless of the educational intent here, the teacher failed to recognize the profound impact this can have on students, family members and others in our community who could perceive this project as condoning or even glorifying the atrocities of one of the most evil individuals in world history,” Shenker said.
In her letter, DeMarco expressed regret about having to address the matter “on the eve of Memorial Day, when we honor and mourn the military personnel who have died in the performance of their duties while serving in the United States Armed Forces.”
“The board and the administration hope that their prior actions have demonstrated to the Tenafly community that we are committed to driving a positive school climate and culture to maximize the learning opportunities and emotional growth for our students and to enable them to pursue productive and fulfilling lives,” DeMarco wrote.
Contributing: Deena Yellin. Reach William Westhoven on Twitter at @wwesthoven
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