Jewish leader believes Nazi yearbook photo shows the power of symbols

GERMANTOWN, TN (WMC) - Germantown Municipal School District apologized after a picture of middle schoolers dressed in Nazi uniforms was published in the school yearbook. But now, members of the Mid-South Jewish community are questioning why students were ever allowed to dress as Nazis for a class.

The photo was printed in the Houston Middle School yearbook without context. It shows two middle school boys dressed as Nazis for a class called "Facing History and Ourselves." It's a class, according to the school principal, that is meant to teach children about racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism.

The picture is part of a statewide program on Nazi Germany and discrimination, according to GMSD. But, there is no context provided for the photo in the Mustang's yearbook.

GMSD released the following statement:

"We understand the concern and are reviewing the incidents with students and staff who were involved.  The school will issue an explanation of the context of the photo and apologize to the students and parents of Houston Middle School later this morning.

Principal Liz Diaz issued a statement sent to parents in attempt to clarify the context of the picture:

"I would like to clarify a picture in the yearbook. At Houston Middle, one of our classes is Facing History and Ourselves, which is an "international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry."

Rabbi Katie Bauman of Temple Israel said the photo shows the power of symbols.

"Given the context of this picture, according to the principal and according to the school district, they were trying to do that, utilize this story to propel righteous action," Bauman said. "I think that is impossible to communicate through an image."

Bauman hopes the photo triggers additional discussions about the difficult topics.

"We owe it to our children to prepare them and empower them to fight those forces that they are certainly going to encounter in their lives," Bauman said.

Those offended by the picture want to know why yearbook faculty sponsors and the school allowed the picture to be published.

The Germantown Municipal School District is reviewing the incident and said it does not condone the photos being put in any school publication.

The executive director for "Facing History and Ourselves" said they discourage teachers from using role play in their lesson. They are now conducting their own investigation into what they call "an error in judgment."

Copyright 2017 WMC Action News 5. All rights reserved.