National News

Nazi Quote Becomes Teachable Moment

Posted June 16, 2018 1:17 p.m. EDT

A Massachusetts high school student captioned his senior photo in the school’s yearbook with a quote generally attributed to the Nazi leaders Joseph Goebbels and Adolf Hitler, the school’s principal said in an apologetic letter to parents this week.

Hundreds of copies of the yearbook had been printed and distributed to students at Andover High School in Massachusetts before the school became aware of the problem and stopped selling the yearbook. The school is now offering to replace the page or cover the quote up with a sticker.

“We are appalled and angered that this quote was submitted, and I ask you to please accept my deepest apologies on behalf of our faculty, staff, and administration for the insertion of these words in the yearbook,” the principal, Philip Conrad, wrote in the letter. “Quoting a racist dictator bent on genocide or his minister of propaganda has no place in our school or our community and it is deeply upsetting to all of us.”

The quote, which reads “Make the lie big, keep it simple, keep saying it and eventually they will believe it,” is widely associated with Hitler and Goebbels’s use of propaganda to build the Nazi empire. The quote is not attributed in the yearbook, and appears in black text underneath the photo of the student, who has not been identified.

It is not Andover High School’s first brush with anti-Semitism this past school year. In December, several swastikas were found carved into desks, including some in classes with Jewish teachers.

Nationally, reported anti-Semitic incidents surged 57 percent in 2017, up to 1,986 from 1,267 in the previous year, according to the Anti-Defamation League, which believes the increase is linked to the divisive state of U.S. politics, the emboldening of extremists, and the effects of social media.

A spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education said it does not track the prevalence of hate-related incidents in the state’s public schools.

Conrad said Friday he did not believe the swastikas and the yearbook quote were linked, but declined to provide more details on the school’s investigation into the swastikas or its outcome.

Andover High School is a public school that is not the same as the Phillips Academy, an elite boarding school in the same town.

In his letter to parents and students, which was sent Wednesday, Conrad said that after the yearbook was published last week, a student, who had researched the Holocaust, alerted the school to the quote’s origins. Conrad said that both teachers and students had vetted the yearbook before it was published, but failed to catch the quote.

Conrad said the majority of the 450 yearbooks that were printed had already been purchased. He said that students can return their yearbook to have the page replaced. The school will also be distributing stickers to cover up the quote for the next few days.

Conrad said the school “immediately investigated” after finding out about the quote and believed the student took it “from a source which did not identify the author.”

“He used it without any knowledge of where it came from or the hateful background with which it is associated,” Conrad added. He declined to comment Friday on what the student was intending to convey.

Robert Goldstein, a rabbi at Temple Emanuel in Andover, praised the school’s response to the controversy.

“I think it’s very important to differentiate between what is an intentional act of racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia and something that is somewhat innocent,” Goldstein said.

Robert Trestan, regional director of the ADL in Boston, which is helping the school respond to the episode, described both the swastikas and the yearbook as “educational opportunities” that could help prevent future anti-Semitism.

“When you have an incident of anti-Semitism or any type of hate or bigotry, you have to look at it and try and make a determination of what’s the motivation behind it,” Trestan said. “They were transparent in sending out this note to the parents, and they also concluded that some remedial action was necessary.”

Trestan said he hoped the school would hold sessions in the future to teach students about anti-Semitism.

A spokesman for Andover Public Schools did not elaborate on whether such sessions would be held, and had no comment on potential changes to yearbook publication procedures. “The district will review its practices and procedures going forward to avoid an incident like this in the future,” he said.