OKATIE, S.C. (WSAV) – What started out as a fifth-grade social studies project at Okatie Elementary School turned into a much bigger lesson.
Students dressed up as historical figures to teach their classmates about who they were, but pictures of two boys dressed as Adolf Hitler caused a backlash.
It’s a called the Wax Museum — a lesson taught nationally that classes participated in on Friday at Okatie Elementary. Superintendent Jeff Moss with the Beaufort County School District says it’s an assignment within South Carolina standards.
“The students were able to choose or select…some did JFK, some did Churchill, some did Rosa Parks, some did Mussolini,” Moss explained.
Two boys chose Adolf Hitler, the Nazi Germany dictator responsible for the execution of 11 million people during the Holocaust.
When the pictures of the students heiling Hitler were posted on the Okatie Elementary Facebook as part of the Wax Museum presentation photos, people were outraged.
“There’s two different issues that got confused,” said Rabbi Brad Bloom with the Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island, “One is the impact of putting pictures of children dressed as Adolf Hitler on the social media, it is just inflammatory.”
Rabbi Bloom says the second issue is that the curriculum was overshadowed. “We couldn’t conceive of it because all you could see was those pictures of boys doing that,” he explained.
The picture was deleted and the school’s principal posted an apology, stating, in part, “It is not and was not our intent to sensationalize or glorify the acts of any of the dictators or public figures represented…. History is not always pretty and nice but we hope by teaching our students about the past it is not repeated.”
Parents replied, concerned about children thinking that a heil Hitler salute was okay in any form.
“I think there’s an educational value in dressing as a character,” Superintendent Moss said, “Obviously they don’t need to do the sign.”
Tuesday morning, the principal invited local Rabbi Bloom to talk with her and Moss.
Sitting next to Moss, Bloom said, “This is what leadership does. Leadership sits at the table, expresses the opinions of our different constituencies, and then we say let’s get down to moving forward and making solutions based decisions.“
In their discussion, they came with an idea to start a new program with real-life figures.
“The outcome’s truly gonna be, I believe, a very positive program for our kids,” Moss said, “We’re gonna have the opportunity to listen to individuals that are survivors.”
With the Rabbi’s help, the district plans on starting a program to bring in local Holocaust survivors and artifacts so the children can learn history from those who lived it, while they’re still here.
This is the first program on the Holocaust to be brought into the Beaufort County School District.