Last week, photos of Orange County, California high school students posing with a Red Solo Cup-constructed swastika went viral.
As someone who was born and raised in Newport Beach, California, a city in Orange County, this did not come as a shock to me. But when I read in the Los Angeles Times that students at my alma mater, Newport Harbor High School, were involved, I felt sick to my stomach. I’m disgusted by the blatant expression of anti-Semitism that NHHS students partook in, but I cannot say I’m surprised. The NHHS campus was always welcoming to me as a white, non-Jewish person. But there are noticeable, lasting racial disparities in Newport Beach that need to be addressed.
Students who attended the party captioned their Snapchat photos with “German rage cage” and “German engeneraing,” which is assumed to a misspelling of the word “engineering.” After the photos began to circulate, screenshots of a group Snapcat conversation entitled “master race” surfaced, where a student wrote “Yaaaa no… Phones gonna die… Just like the Jews.”
A local expressed concerns to a party attendee through Instagram direct messaging. The local informed the student that her neighbor’s grandmother was “sobbing” in reaction to the photos because “she had lost all her family to the Holocaust.” The student called the grandmother “overly emotional” in response.
The students’ nonchalance toward their actions may be representative of a generational lack of historical knowledge. A Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Study conducted by The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany found that even though approximately six million Jews were killed during the Holocaust, 31 percent of Americans and 41 percent of millennials think two million or less were killed. Disturbingly, 22 percent of millennial respondents said they haven’t heard or are not sure if they have heard of the Holocaust. Two-thirds of millennial respondents could not identify Auschwitz as a concentration camp.
Better education on horrific events like the Holocaust is undoubtedly necessary. Educating students on tragedies historically spurred from racism and will provide them with the tools to prevent future wars. But it’s also time for people who use Nazi symbols as party props be held accountable for their actions. Nazism is bad. The Holocaust is not a joke; millions of people were murdered. A lack of substantial punishment for students in these pictures would imply that these facts are up for debate. Giving them slaps on the wrist or worse, no discipline at all, would send a dangerous message: Neo-Nazis can be humanized. But anyone who romanticizes a regime run by human rights violators is wrong.
How much more death and damage will be endured before we take action? In 2017, a Neo-Nazi killed a woman with his car in Charlottesville. In 2018, a shooter murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue. Antisemitism escalates to this level because we refuse to hold people accountable when they make their despicable views known. It’s not hard to find these people. They announce themselves to the world, often via social media. We just ignore them until they kill.
To stop this deadly cycle, we can start by implementing institutional consequences for students involved in such expressions of racism. Being humiliated in the news and on social media is deserved, but not enough. NHHS administrators held a community forum this past Monday night, which is a step in the right direction, but actions of this severity constitute expulsion and additions to permanent records.
Mandatory curriculum on the Holocaust not only for the students pictured, but certainly for all students in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, and arguably for students nationwide is necessary. If the generation of our country’s future is not taught about the most horrific parts of our history, a Holocaust-like event could happen again.
Ashley is a sophomore studying journalism. What do you think can be done to prevent antisemitism? Should schools play a role? Please send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.