Karen Sutton

A principal’s twisted principles

The principal of Spanish River High School in Boca Raton, Florida has taken his place in a long line of Holocaust deniers…now known as Holocaust revisionists. What is surprising is not William Latson’s statement questioning whether the Holocaust was “historically factual”; deniers such as the infamous William Irving have for decades argued the “mistruths and distortions and outright lies” of Holocaust history. We all remember the famous trial where author Deborah Lipstadt, the defendant, had to pay a lawyer to demonstrate that the Holocaust had in fact happened.  She of course won her case, and Irving became publicly exposed for what he was, an anti-Semitic Holocaust denier.

The surprise, if not shock of the situation in Florida,  lies in Latson’s reasoning as to why he couldn’t allow Holocaust studies to be taught, or commemorated, at his high school. He was only performing his just duty as a “public school official.”  This totally repugnant questioning of the veracity of the Holocaust, in full view of Holocaust survivors and their families, constitutes a new level of effrontery to both historic truth and human decency. Latson’s claim was that he did not want to offend his students’ parents by presenting one belief over another, that those who do not believe the Holocaust happened should have the same opportunities to present their views as those who do.  This so-called equivalency reflects enormous ignorance of the past and an injustice to the liberal principles of the present.  Latson’s words, “not everyone believes that the Holocaust happened and not all parents have the same beliefs, so they will react differently,”  constitute a grave and unforgivable distortion in judgment both personally and professionally.  He should not only be removed but permanently dismissed from his position of authority.

Reports of the principal’s “controversial decision” by journalists and well-intentioned responders also miss the mark.  What the principal said is not “controversial,” it is wrong.  His words should be condemned as encouraging a false set of values cloaked in the moral veneer of “human rights.”  Nazi policy on the Final Solution of one of the most thoroughly documented events in history, whether the Holocaust happened is a non-starter in any discussion.

The take-home value for this whole unfortunate lesson is the necessity “to put it in writing.”  That way, the veracity of an event, no matter how monumental or small, is much less likely to be disputed successfully.   The Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, Dwight D. Eisenhower,  got it right in immediately recording the horrific sights he and his troops fell upon as they entered the gates of the concentration camps. Through film and tape recordings, soldiers documented all they saw and heard.    According to Eisenhower. “The scenes beggar description, the visual evidence and the verbal testimony of the starvation, cruelty and bestiality were so overpowering…I made the visit deliberately  in order to be in a position to give first hand evidence of these things if ever in the future there develops a tendency to change this allegation.”

For us, two generations later, this message stands more poignant and powerful than ever.  The pressures of the present political and social landscape in the 21st century must not determine how history is written. To reinterpret the past based on a current “agenda,” whether liberal or conservative  is unacceptable. At the end of the day, social and cultural principles cannot be placed above the pursuit of disclosing facts.  Hurray to those who followed Latson’s story vigilantly and, above all were not silent.

About the Author
Dr. Karen Sutton is associate professor of history at the Lander College for Women, a division of Touro University, in New York City.
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