Amid community outrage over photos from a weekend party that featured area high school students giving Nazi salutes over a swastika fashioned from cups during a drinking game, Holocaust survivor Eva Schloss, stepsister of famed teenage diarist Anne Frank, will meet privately Thursday at Newport Harbor High School with some of the students involved in the incident, according to the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach.
“It’s imperative that today’s young people come face to face with the consequences of unchecked hatred,” Rabbi Reuven Mintz, the center director, said in a statement Wednesday.
“Our hope is that meeting someone who witnessed firsthand the atrocities committed under that same swastika and salute will help guide these students toward a life of tolerance and acceptance, spreading a message of inclusion and love, rather than one of hatred,” said Mintz, who helped facilitate the discussion and said he plans to attend a campus rally before Schloss’ meeting with the students.
The announcement followed a community forum Monday at Newport Harbor High in which Jewish students and members of student government spoke about prejudice and divisions in the campus community and the effects of hateful comments and anti-Semitic symbols at school.
The Chabad Center is working with school administrators on a long-term plan and curriculum for Holocaust education that would include meetings with Holocaust survivors, the center said.
Schloss, 89, was born in Austria and spent two years in hiding in Amsterdam before being captured by the Nazis on her 15th birthday, according to her biography. She spent nine months in the Auschwitz concentration camp before being liberated by the Soviet army. Schloss’ father and brother were killed in the death camp; her mother survived and in 1953 married Anne’s father, Otto Frank. The two families had known each other in Amsterdam.
Anne was captured by the Gestapo in Amsterdam in August 1944 and died at age 15 at the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in early 1945.
Schloss now lives in London, where she became active in Holocaust education in 1985 and released her first book, “Eva’s Story,” in 1988. Her third book was published in 2014.
The Holocaust is a standard topic covered in history classes, and “The Diary of Anne Frank” is often required high school reading. But with time, knowledge of the Nazi atrocities among young people has decreased.
A study commissioned last year by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany showed that 66% of U.S. millennials didn’t know what the Auschwitz concentration camp was. Four in 10 millennials thought 2 million or fewer Jewish people were killed during the Holocaust; the actual number is around 6 million.
For people born after 2000, post-millennials, the Holocaust feels less real, as they’re less likely to hear from the ever-dwindling number of survivors and Word War II veterans, said Edward Dunbar, a UCLA clinical professor who has researched hate crimes and violence for two decades.
“These forms of atrocities are fading far into the distance for young non-adults, adolescents and teenagers, and it’s no closer than the Civil War would be for them,” Dunbar said.
A Snapchat conversation among some of the students at the house that night included jokes about the Holocaust.
“Yaaaa no, phones gonna die,” one student wrote. “Just like the Jews.”
The students had titled the conversation “master race.”
One student said to be at the party posted an Instagram story with what initially looked like an apology, saying he was “very sorry for my actions as I am guilty by association.” In the next image, he wrote that he was just joking, that “last night was awesome” and that he had “absolutely no sympathy” for anybody who was offended. He claimed to be Jewish. Then he deleted his account.
A parent who asked not to be identified released handwritten letters of apology Monday from some of the teenagers who were at the party. In the letters, students expressed “my deepest remorse and regret,” said “my actions were disgusting, appalling, irresponsible” and that “we made a very big mistake.”
A Jewish day school in Irvine hosted 10 of the involved students and their parents Wednesday for a meeting with the head of the school, who spoke about the Holocaust and the Jewish concept of teshuva, a word usually translated as meaning repentance and regret for a misdeed.
The administrator said in a statement to school parents that one of the visiting parents approached him and said: “I’m so sorry, I had no idea. I apologize for not taking this seriously until now. I never had this education. I’m so sorry.”
The Newport-Mesa Unified School District said Wednesday that officials have conducted interviews with more than a dozen students and that its investigation of the incident is continuing. It said it will not disclose any disciplinary actions taken, citing student privacy laws.
JSerra Catholic High School, a private school in San Juan Capistrano, said Tuesday that a student photographed at the party is “now a former student.” It was unclear whether the student was expelled or withdrew.
Some of the students identified as being at the party have played on local high school or other sports teams. A local soccer club said Wednesday that a player linked to the incident is no longer with the team.
Julia Sclafani writes for Times Community News.