‘I was pretty great, wasn’t I’: NJ student’s Hitler presentation under investigation, school district says

New Jersey

TENAFLY, N.J. — A New Jersey school district launched an investigation this week after an elementary student allegedly presented a project on Adolf Hitler’s greatest accomplishments while dressed as the German dictator.

A photo of the completed character development assignment was posted on Facebook by Lori Birk on Sunday. The project was written in first-person narrative as if the student was Hitler. 

“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 und reichskanzler in 1934,” the assignment read. “Führer and reichskanzler means leader and chancellor. I was pretty great, wasn’t I? I was very popular and many people followed me until I died. My belief in antisemitism drove me to kill more than 6 million Jews.”

According to Birk, it was written by a fifth-grader and their choice of topic for the assignment was approved by the teacher prior to the presentation.

“Please read – as this was hanging in the Maugham School hallway in Tenafly. This is ignorance, antisemitism and hatred taught at a fifth grade level,” Birk wrote. “Shame on the parents who helped their child dress as Hitler and the teacher who has approved such hatred.”

The one-page essay was posted on a school display board for more than a week, parents said.

The Tenafly Board of Education told PIX11 News in a statement on Tuesday that it was reviewing the situation and would provide an update this week.

“In the meantime, we are committed – as always – to cultivating a positive school culture that has no room for hate, prejudice, bias, or oppression. We are proud of our district’s policies regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion and are committed to ensuring adherence to these guiding principles,” the statement said.

It’s now the subject of a municipal investigation, as well as increased security at the school, and at the school district offices.

One parent at the school called the situation “appalling.”

Tracy Stevens, another parent at the school, reacted similarly: “I’m very shocked myself to hear about what went on. Very surprised.”

The assignment, according to parents, included having the children dress up as the historical figure they’d chosen, whether the person they’d chosen to depict was famous or infamous.

Mark Zinna, the mayor of Tenafly, said that the project was poorly carried out.

“The adults involved in allowing this to happen really messed up,” Zinna said at a news conference at borough hall early Tuesday afternoon.  “All the fifth grade classes were studying famous people in history. How it was presented in a positive light is really concerning.”

The executive director of the Jewish Federation of Northern New Jersey said that the way the assignment played out was concerning.

“Every Jew in this town should be upset by the Adolf Hitler post,” Jason Shames said, in a news conference outside of the school on Tuesday afternoon.  “No question that that is as offensive to us as it could ever get.”  

The assignment was made back in April, but comments about it started spreading on social media in recent days among parents.  It then spread even further online.  

In a statement, the schools superintendent, Shauna DeMarco, posted in part that she understands why “tensions are running high and that our community is extremely upset.  We share those feelings.”

However, some residents of this town of 14,600 people warn against a rush to judgment. 

“I’m not saying it’s a good thing,” said a mother who asked to not be identified.  “I condemn it, but the child didn’t know.”

The head of the Jewish Federation said that a full investigation should run its course.

“Rushing to judgment here is harming the situation,” Shames said.  “We need to be pretty careful about the fact that we’re talking about a 10 year-old child.

The investigation will center on the adults involved in the situation, according to the mayor.

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