The formidable library at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) contains 54,000 oral testimonies from Holocaust survivors and witnesses, as well as 287,153 “artifacts, documents, photos, films, books, personal stories, and more” that testify to the atrocities of the period. The National Archives at College Park, Maryland, hold 70,000 rolls of microfilm containing captured German documents that detail the unfolding of the Nazi regime’s comingled war and genocide. The Jewish Virtual Library lists nearly 60 museums and memorials in the United States devoted to the Holocaust.
Yet the former principal of Boca Raton, Florida’s Spanish River High School, William Latson, chose to deny that massive body of historical proof in an email exchange with a concerned parent in April 2018. On July 5, the Palm Beach Post published parts of Latson’s correspondence with the parent, in which he claimed that “as a school district employee” he could not “say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” He needed to remain “politically neutral” about the Holocaust, Latson elaborated, as some parents believe it occurred, while others do not.
Perhaps Latson was moved by the mass of starlets, media figures, and politicians who have spent the past several years misinforming the public about the Holocaust and wielding fragmented bits of its history as political daggers. Maybe he has never been adequately educated about the devastating, complex period that led to the wholesale murder of six million Jews, and millions of dissidents, members of other religions, and political enemies of the state.
Whatever the case, Latson’s remarks prove he is happy to carry water for people whose denial of concrete historical fact marches in lockstep with the hateful pseudoscience that once led to the Holocaust, and is still alive and well today.
Latson Repeatedly Refused to Confront Reality
In May 2018, several weeks after the initial email exchange, the concerned parent, a second parent, and administrators from the school district met with Latson. At the meeting, both parents were shocked to find Latson was still “reticent to state that the Holocaust was a historic event.” Latson did detail his efforts to provide Holocaust education at Spanish River High School. The parent responded that, according to her child, a student at the school, the initiatives had not been fully implemented.
Latson’s comments, and the laxity with which Spanish River High School performed the duty set forward in the Florida education code that all students learn about the “systematic, planned annihilation of Jews and other groups by Nazi Germany,” led the school district to action. In a statement to CBS12, the Palm Beach County School District recalled how Latson “was counseled” regarding his email exchange, “was instructed to further expand the Holocaust curriculum…[and] also spent several days at the United States Holocaust Museum [sic] to increase his personal knowledge.”
Using a Twitter account that has since been deactivated, Latson has made appearances of supporting Holocaust education, and disavowing anti-Semitism following his four-day training at the USHMM. He retweeted posts about International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2019, and about the deadly shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018.
On October 29, Latson tweeted about the “senseless” Pittsburgh shooting.
On February 5 and February 6, he tweeted about the Holocaust survivors who spoke at Spanish River High School, and about school members who volunteered at a USHMM dinner.
Actions Speak Loudest
However, Latson’s actions speak louder than his tweets. In the 2018-19 school year, a schoolwide assembly on the Holocaust—one of two agreed-upon changes to Spanish River High School’s Holocaust curriculum—was dropped due to “timing constraints.”
Once again, Latson appeared to be cowering to the forces favoring lax Holocaust education. His failure to hold the promised assembly demonstrates he still does not comprehend how a lack of Holocaust education creates fertile ground for Holocaust denial, and could easily lead to the precise variety of hatred which fueled a horrific genocide.
On July 8, Latson was relieved of his position as principal of Spanish River High School. His removal paves the way for students at the school to receive an adequate education in the incontrovertible, entirely apolitical evidence of Nazi Germany’s genocide.
However, Latson remains in the district, where he has simply been moved to an unspecified position. In an email to staff at Spanish River High School, Latson blamed his reassignment on a “statement that was not accurately relayed to the newspaper by one of our parents,” the Palm Beach Post reported on July 9.
As the news of Latson’s reassignment broke, Holocaust survivors, parents, and everyday citizens were quick to express disgust with the former principal’s behavior. Florida politicians, including Republicans and Democrats at a state and national level, called for Latson to be fired, as reported by BuzzFeed News on July 9. A Change.org petition calling for Latson’s temporary suspension without pay until a full investigation into his behavior can be conducted has more than 19,000 signatures.
Whether the school board conducts such an investigation, the appropriateness of Latson’s continued involvement in the education of youth is certainly suspect. There should be no place in the education system for an administrator who cannot tell the difference between history, and the swill bandied about by Holocaust deniers, whose ilk refute established fact to prop up their hateful desire to discredit, and ultimately exterminate, Jews—a desire shared by those who set the Holocaust in motion.