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US schools pull essay questioning Holocaust

California district apologises for asking pupils to discuss whether they believed Nazi crimes "were an actual event".

Last updated: 08 May 2014 09:31
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Six million Jews were among the millions of people killed by Nazi Germany [AFP]

The school board of a southern California district has admitted as "wholly inappropriate" asking pupils to write an essay on whether they believed the Nazi Holocaust really happened.

The local newspaper, the San Bernardino Sun, reported that 2,000 13 and 14-year-old pupils in the district were asked: to write an "argumentative essay", based on cited evidence, on whether they believed the Holocaust was "an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme created to influence public emotion and gain wealth”.

The essay plan was developed by teachers drawing on work presented in a course on the diary of Anne Frank, who died in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

During a public meeting on Wednesday, Joanne Gilbert, the school board's president, said it took "full responsibility" for the assignment, which she described was wholly inappropriate.

The district had already withdrawn the assignment and called it an error, but went further after a public comment session where Jewish groups, tolerance organisations and community leaders denounced the assignment.

Gilbert said eighth graders will undergo sensitivity training at the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles, and several other policy changes would be implemented.

Suzanne Singer, a rabbi at the Temple Beth El in Riverside, said: "I don't understand why a fact of history would be a matter for debate."

An estimated six million Jews were among the millions of people killed by Nazi Germany between 1933 and 1945. In some European countries, Holocaust denial is a crime.

* This article originally stated Anne Frank died in Auschwitz. Al Jazeera apologises for this error.

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