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Student Talk as Hitler Brings Response : Education: Holocaust survivor will speak at school where fifth-grader dressed as Nazi dictator and won second place in an oratory contest.

March 03, 1992|SHERRY JOE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

THOUSAND OAKS — A representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Center will conduct seminars on the Holocaust this week at a Thousand Oaks school where a fifth-grader dressed up as Adolf Hitler and delivered a sympathetic speech about the Nazi dictator.

The Conejo Valley Unified School District invited the Los Angeles-based institute for Holocaust studies after the student's Feb. 24 speech at Westlake Elementary School prompted an outcry from some parents and Jewish leaders.

"We felt this would help the healing and education process," Assistant Supt. Richard Simpson said.

But he said the district will not issue a formal apology to those offended by the speech, which portrayed Hitler as a youth mistreated by Jews.

"I've been apologizing all day," Simpson said Monday. "We're sorry that we've caused this hurt. We're not in the business of trying to alienate or offend our community."

The unidentified boy donned a khaki uniform, boots, a swastika, armband and fake mustache for the speech, which was delivered as part of a student oratory contest. The four-minute speech, which was awarded second place by a panel of teachers, mentioned that Hitler was responsible for the deaths of millions of Jews, but it did not provide any details on the Holocaust or Nazi death camps during World War II.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Center said a Holocaust survivor will conduct the seminars in an effort to "give youngsters the feel of the real event."

Renee Firestone, who survived the Auschwitz death camp, will conduct assemblies for grades one through three and four through six on Wednesday. An evening session is set Thursday for adults.

Among the artifacts Firestone will bring are a Star of David patch that Jews were forced to wear during World War II and a Nazi schoolbook that advocated racism, Cooper said.

Since the incident, Conejo Valley Supt. William R. Seaver has changed the rules for oratorical contests, including a new requirement that speeches about historical figures emphasize those who have made a positive contribution to society. Students had been allowed to deliver speeches about any historical figure.

The school district also will require teachers and principals to review the content of speeches before they are delivered to ensure that the subject matter is appropriate for schoolchildren.

Simpson declined to say whether teachers would be disciplined for allowing the speech or giving it the second-place award.

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