Iowa school officials apologize for referencing World War II Nazi in morning announcements

DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa school district issued an apology after incorporating a quote tied to World War II Nazis in its morning announcements.

In an email sent to the Des Moines Register, part of the USA TODAY Network, the Indianola Community School District expressed remorse for featuring a quote by Heinrich Himmler, a high-ranking Nazi who played a key role in the Holocaust. The quote “My honor is my loyalty” was selected as the “Respect Quote of the Day” and was shared through Indianola Middle School’s public address system and via email to families on Monday, KCCI reported.

The phrase was originally used by the Schutzstaffel or SS, the paramilitary group of the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany, to demonstrate their loyalty to Adolf Hitler, as stated by the Anti-Defamation League. Subsequently, the school district issued an apology to families via email, acknowledging that a “staff member did not realize that the quote was from a highly inappropriate source.”

“This morning (Nov. 20), an administrative staff member inadvertently posted a Respect Quote of the Day without verifying the source of the quote,” mentioned Indianola Superintendent Ted Ihns in the email.

“Firstly, I would like to apologize for this oversight,” Ihns added. “Although it was completely unintentional, I recognize that some individuals who came across the quote and recognized its source may have been offended.”

Ihns stated that district officials are planning to establish a new procedure to double-check the quotes in the future. However, he did not provide specific details about the proposed changes.

The district officials did not respond to the Register’s inquiries via email or phone for additional information.

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‘Words have power’

Experts emphasize the significance of school officials recognizing the influence of words on individuals.

“When taking a step back, what message are you trying to convey?” stated Jarad Bernstein, executive director of Jewish Federation of Greater Des Moines, in an interview with the Register. “It may be a powerful tool for education, but if you choose that path, be aware of what you are doing, as words have power.”

Bernstein suggests that officials should conduct a Google search before utilizing any quotes in the future.

The incident involving the Indianola quote occurred just weeks after the U.S. Department of Education released a “Dear Colleague” letter, reminding educational institutions of their “federal legal obligations to ensure nondiscriminatory environments” for all students, following a surge in “antisemitic incidents and threats to Jewish, Israeli, Muslim, Arab, and Palestinian students on college campuses and in P-12 schools.”

Rise in hate incidents across the U.S.

Since the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7, there has been a noticeable increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents throughout the country.

According to the ADL, between Oct. 7 and Nov. 7, the organization has documented 832 antisemitic incidents involving assault, vandalism, and harassment. Likewise, the Council On American Islamic Relations received 1,283 assistance requests and reports of bias between Oct. 7 and Nov. 4.

The Israel-Hamas conflict has also sparked tensions among academic institutions, with several schools drawing national attention due to conflicting protests, alleged hate incidents, and criticism regarding the handling of student behavior by university leaders.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights revealed the initiation of seven investigations into alleged cases of antisemitic and anti-Muslim harassment across six colleges and one K-12 school district since the beginning of the conflict. These schools are being accused of violating federal laws that prohibit discrimination or harassment based on shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.

‘Difficult time’:Feds, local officials on high alert as reports of antisemitism, Islamophobia surge

Nazi quotes slip into school settings

Indianola is not the only school district that has unwittingly used quotes attributed to Nazis.

In May 2019, a senior at Green Bay Area Public Schools in Green Bay, Wisconsin, included the quote “‘If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.’ – Adolf Hitler” in the yearbook. The quote is a paraphrase of a statement made by Hitler’s propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbels.

At that time, the district announced the discontinuation of the practice of allowing senior quotes in yearbooks.

In February 2021, officials from the Westside Community School District in Omaha, Nebraska, apologized after a staff member displayed the quote “The man who has no sense of history is like a man with no ears or eyes” — which is attributed to Hitler — in an eighth-grade hallway, as reported by WOWT at the time.

Bernstein hopes that the use of the Himmler quote was an honest mistake since the incident could have an impact on the overall atmosphere within the school.

“The Nazi regime was an enemy of the United States,” he commented. “What would you do if you Googled the quote and found out it was from Robert Lee? Would you consider that appropriate? No. If you’re aiming to communicate an idea, find a better way or a better source.”

Contributing: Zachary Schermele, USA TODAY

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