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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Removal of “The Diary of Anne Frank” Ends WIS’s Last Element of Gradewide Holocaust Education

Scene from “The Diary of Anne Frank.” The play that was removed from the middle school curriculum, eliminating all gradewide Holocaust education at WIS. (Wikimedia Commons)

Antisemitic incidents in the U.S. rose by 36% in 2022, reaching the highest recorded level of hate crimes towards Jews since 1979, according to the Anti-Defamation League. This recent development has coincided with a national trend of American public schools de-emphasizing the Holocaust, with 31 states not requiring students to receive any Holocaust education.

WIS’s middle school English department replaced the play version of “The Diary of Anne Frank,” marking the removal of the last piece of gradewide Holocaust education in the primary, middle and upper school. The play was part of the seventh grade curriculum and was removed in the summer of 2021, according to middle school English teacher Sonia Chintha.

Chintha cites the reason for removing the text from the curriculum as making space for “a variety of diverse voices.” After the murder of George Floyd sparked a resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, Chintha felt the need to represent minority communities through the literature taught in middle school. So, during the summer of 2020, the middle school English department reevaluated the curriculum and made plans to diversify the texts covered. 

Chintha reached out to upper school English teacher Nicholas Loewen via email regarding the proposed curriculum change. Loewen informed her that up until 2016, he had taught his ninth grade students the memoir “Night” by Elie Wiesel, which details Wiesel’s first hand experience living in Nazi concentration camps. 

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However, due to miscommunication between the middle and upper school English departments, Chintha thought that Loewen was still teaching “Night,” which is why she ultimately chose to replace “The Diary of Anne Frank” with a Queer voices unit, in which students get to choose to read one of three book options. 

Another reason for this switch was that Chintha believed the Holocaust would be covered at a later point in students’ academic careers.

“Because we’re an international school, I felt that, ‘Okay, [the Holocaust] is an international historical topic and event; I can’t imagine that we’re not going to hit it at some point in our curriculum,’” Chintha said. “Whereas I don’t feel like anti-Blackness, anti-racism, anti-Asian thinking… was being taught.”

Eighth grader Dahlia Apple, who is Jewish, was surprised and disappointed by the removal of “The Diary of Anne Frank” from the English curriculum, which meant that she and her classmates did not receive any Holocaust education throughout middle school. 

Apple notes the low Jewish student population at WIS as a potential contributing factor to this omission. “There is definitely a low percentage of Jews just in each of the grades and in WIS as a whole,” she said. “It might play a role in the way that… the Holocaust is not a big focal point in the history lessons.” 

Middle school humanities teacher and subject coordinator Lauren Wright explains that middle school humanities covers ancient, medieval and early modern history. “I think there is a lot of wisdom in teaching students early history to provide a foundation for more modern topics in upper school,” Wright said.

In the upper school history curriculum, the ninth and tenth grade classes cover the American and Haitian Revolutions and the “long nineteenth century,” which stretches from the end of the French Revolution to the lead-up to World War I. Additionally, there is a focus on developing skills for conducting research and analyzing primary sources in order to prepare them for IB History, according to upper school history teachers Don Boehm and Nora Brennan.

Consequently, the Holocaust is not covered until the IB History program, which about 30% of upperclassmen students take, according to Boehm.

While Brennan feels that it is extremely important to learn about the Holocaust, she also believes there are other aspects of history that students should know about. “[In] history, everything is profoundly important, and we have to, unfortunately, make decisions,” Brennan said regarding the curriculum. 

Because of the limited amount of content that can be covered in the first two years of upper school, she wishes that more students would take IB History to learn about contemporary events such as the Holocaust. 

Moreover, Boehm hopes that although the Holocaust is not explicitly covered in underclassmen’s history classes, students will still develop a strong sense of empathy towards marginalized groups after learning about slavery and systemic racism in the U.S. 

“While you may not have specific instruction on the Holocaust, or the Armenian genocide, or the Rwandan genocide… you have an understanding that there are these atrocities in history,” he said. “One of the things about learning history is to think about [events] critically so that you can be an active person in a world where they don’t happen again.”

Junior Claire Khajavi does not take IB History and believes that the Holocaust and other aspects of World War II should be taught in either ninth or 10th grade. “We don’t learn about any of it, and that’s messed up,” she said. “You need to know [the basics] in order to just be able to understand what’s happened in the world.”

In Higher Level (HL) IB History, the Holocaust is taught from two angles: Nazi policies towards Jews and the U.S.’s response and lack thereof to the Holocaust. The consequences of the Nuremberg Trials are also briefly discussed. These angles come from the IB’s prescribed subjects that instructors may choose from. This year, the juniors also visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum

Junior Sam Huffard, who takes IB HL History, believes that there is a sufficient amount of class time dedicated to the Holocaust. However, he is concerned that students who do not take IB History do not receive any Holocaust education. Since the Holocaust is such a sensitive topic, he says it is easy to misunderstand and make offensive jokes, which he has witnessed multiple times at WIS. Thus, he believes it should be mandatory at any school.

“I couldn’t imagine going into adulthood and not knowing [about the Holocaust],” Huffard said. “That’s what scares me about people who’ve never taken history in high school, or at least 11th and 12th grade.”

Alumna Rose Boehm participated in the Holocaust Museum’s Bringing the Lessons Home program during the spring of 2020 and has remained involved with the museum as a college student. Similarly to Huffard, Boehm worries that WIS students who don’t take IB History do not understand the long-lasting impacts of the Holocaust, leading some of them to make hurtful, antisemitic jokes. 

“We are the last generation to be able to interact with Holocaust survivors,” she said. “When people don’t really take the time to learn [about the Holocaust], they’re not going to be able to actually resonate with the people who went through that, or they’re not going to be the most respectful towards that history.” 

Boehm believes that Holocaust education should start in the primary school in order for students to fully comprehend the scope of the event.

Primary School Director of Teaching and Learning Stephanie Sneed explains that it is not developmentally appropriate for primary school students to learn about the horrific events of the Holocaust. However, she believes that WIS lays the foundation for this knowledge, such as a third grade unit on push and pull factors leading to migration and a fourth grade unit on different organized religions.

“You’re making sure that [students] are understanding roles and responsibilities as a citizen, and how to combat prejudice and intolerance and discrimination,” Sneed said.

Associate Head of School Natasha Bhalla’s role is to bring up curriculum issues and plan ways to address them. Each division principal and the Director of Teaching and Learning disseminate that information to subject coordinators, who work to revise the curriculum. 

However, each department works individually, which can create gaps. “Without having a full integrated model, you might get to a situation where everyone thinks… ‘This [topic] must come up,’ but then they’re not checking to see, ‘What is that topic really about? And what does that look like?’” Bhalla said. 

When WIS was accredited in 2018, the committee pointed out that WIS did not have a curriculum review cycle. So, one was implemented in 2021 to review the entire school’s curriculum in depth. Each division, however, is always in a different stage of the cycle. 

“I trust my colleagues,” Bhalla said regarding the removal of certain units, such as “The Diary of Anne Frank.” “I trust that they’re making decisions that are in the best interest of their students.”

Senior Madeline Robbins, who is Jewish, takes IB HL History and is passionate about history, particularly pertaining to antisemitism. She feels that WIS should bring in guest speakers during lunches in order to provide students with the opportunity to learn about the Holocaust. “There should be outlets for students to explore [it] and not necessarily… ‘if you want to study this, you have to do it on your own time,’” Robbins said.

Apple agrees, noting that most of her personal knowledge about the Holocaust comes from attending religious school and visiting the Holocaust museum with her family. She thinks that WIS should celebrate Jewish American Heritage Month, which takes place in May, and hold a special assembly to discuss the Holocaust and persistent antisemitism around the world.

Apple believes that the Holocaust is such an integral part of history that all WIS students should learn about it in some capacity. “It happened fewer than a hundred years ago and [some] people who went through that are still alive today,” she said. “It should be emphasized to make sure that it never happens again.”

By Naomi Breuer and Maia Nehme

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Naomi Breuer
Naomi Breuer, Editor-in-Chief
I am Editor-in-Chief of Dateline this year. As a junior last year, I was a Publications Editor and Middle School News Advisor. As a sophomore, I was WIS News Editor, and Arts Editor as a freshman. Other than Dateline, I enjoy baking, playing guitar, biking and participating in Model UN.

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    Carla Corey-BrownJan 25, 2024 at 7:38 am

    Genocide shouldn’t just be offered in elective classes. It should be a part of regular history curriculum. The Holocaust, slavery, RWanda etc. All of it should be taught to all students so they can learn from the many many mistakes that were made and recognize the red flags to look for so as to stop it if it begins again. These things were beyond horrible but if we can learn from this then hopefully history won’t repeat itself. Removing literature is wrong. The Diary of Anne Frank, Are you there God it’s me Margaret etc. Religion is a part of life too. Don’t remove things like Columbus, Washington, Ben Franklin etc. Continue these teachings but also then teach that the way these events happened werent the way they were taught, and insert what really happened. Our government needs to stop telling children and others their version, and start telling the truth. America is a mixture of all religions races cultures etc. All history and all races should be recognized equally especially if it happened here. Represent everyone not just certain cultures/religions and races, and tell these events truthfully. Just my opinion. ALL lives matter. ALL lives are equal…. At least they should be regardless of race religion or ethnicity and EVERYONE should at least respect EVERYONE. Thank you for letting me comment.