‘Not just about a few kids’: Nazi salutes and swastikas spark soul searching in O.C.

This image from Twitter shows Newport-Mesa students toasting over a swastika made from red plastic cups. The “ultimate rage” banner over the image was added by a social media user.

Nearly a week after images from a Nazi-themed party attended by teenagers in Orange County sparked outrage, school officials and the community have been working to turn the incident into a learning experience.

Images from the party appearing on social media showed a group of students — arms outstretched in a Nazi salute — gathered around red plastic cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.

“German rage cage,” one partygoer captioned a photo, presumably referencing the popular drinking game Rage Cage before posting it on Snapchat.

“Ultimate rage,” another wrote.

Here is how the repercussions have played out this week:

My actions were disgusting

► One parent, who did not want to be identified, said that on Sunday, he invited a Holocaust scholar to his home to speak with nine students who had attended the party. Some students who had defended the conduct did not accept the invitation to his home, but the students who did go expressed remorse and decided to write apology letters, the parent said. My actions were disgusting, appalling, irresponsible,” one student wrote.


► The school district said this week that it has interviewed more than a dozen students about the party and the investigation was continuing. It said it would not disclose any disciplinary actions, citing student privacy laws.

► JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano said Tuesday that a student at the school photographed at the party is “now a former student,” and a local soccer club said Wednesday that a player linked to the incident is no longer with the team.

► Karen Yelsey, a Newport-Mesa Unified School District board member, said the board intends to add an item to the agenda for its next meeting recommending that Supt. Fred Navarro create a task force to “determine the best course of action to help educate not only our students but also parents, teachers and the broader community as we work together to fight anti-Semitism and bigotry in all forms.”

‘I hope … students have got the message’

Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Holocaust diarist Anne Frank, met Thursday with some of the students who attended the party.

She was surprised to learn that some students fdidn’t understand the pain they could cause with their actions.

“I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered and I would never have a family again,” she said.

Schloss said the students apologized for their actions and said they didn’t mean any harm.

“I hope the school and students have got the message and things will be different,” she said.

‘Not just about a few kids at a party’

Community members filled the Corona del Mar High School theater Thursday night to discuss the situation.

The conversation focused less on the weekend party itself than on the cultural atmosphere in which the incident occurred and the importance of the history of the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews and others were persecuted and killed by Nazi Germany during World War II.

“This week’s incident is not just about a few kids at a party. This is about a casual approach to the serious issue of anti-Semitism as well as bigotry of all kinds,” said Rabbi Gersh Zylberman of Temple Bat Yahm in Newport Beach. “If we remember to stand with each other as brothers and sisters, we can say no to anti-Semitism and to hate.”

“What looked like one thunder clap on Saturday night is a hurricane,” added Peter Levi, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League. “There is so much hate and we’ve got to know exactly what it is so we can do something about it.”

Times staff writers Lilly Nguyen, Matt Ormseth and Alene Tchekmedyian and Times contributor Daniel Langhorne contributed to this report.