NEWPORT BEACH (CBSLA) – Eva Schloss, whose father, brother and stepsister Anne Frank died in the Holocaust, met Thursday with a group of Newport Beach students involved in a Nazi salute photo that has sparked community outrage.
Organizers of the meeting at Newport Harbor High School said they wanted to make the uproar over the photograph a teachable moment for students.
“People should never, ever forget what has happened and how it came about,” Schloss told reporters after the closed-door meeting with students. “I was shocked that in 2019 – in a well-educated town, in a very high-educated school – that incidents like this should still happen.”
Regarding her experience surviving the Holocaust, she said, “So I was their age when I realized my life was completely shattered, I will never have a family again. And this was really something very, very hard to endure.”
Schloss added, “I think this school has got the message, and I hope the state will have got the message and from now on things are going to be improved.”
Before the meeting, Rabbi Reuven Mintz of the Chabad Center for Jewish Life in Newport Beach, who played a role in organizing the gathering, said, “It’s imperative that today’s young people come face to face with the consequences of unchecked hatred.”
“Our hope is that meeting someone who witnessed firsthand the atrocities committed under that same swastika and salute will help guide these students toward a life of tolerance and acceptance, spreading a message of inclusion and love, rather than one of hatred,” Mintz added.
The meeting with the 89-year-old Schloss, a Holocaust survivor herself who wrote about her experiences in her book “After Auschwitz: A story of Heartbreak and Survival,” was private.
It came less than a week after a photo of the students saluting like Nazis around red plastic cups arranged to form a swastika during a game of beer pong touched off a firestorm of criticism after it was posted on social media. A few dozen teenagers from Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia High schools have been identified.
Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, joined a chorus of public officials criticizing the anti-Semitic photo.
“As we await a fuller account of what happened at an off-campus, high school party with students reportedly from the Newport-Mesa Unified School District, where cups were formed into a swastika surrounded by students engaged in a Nazi salute, I want to express my condemnation of any and all anti-Semitic acts, and again emphasize my solidarity with the Jewish community in Orange County and elsewhere,” Moorlach said.
Sources told CBS2’s Michele Gile that some of the teens have already been suspended, and a student from a private school in south Orange County who was at the party has been expelled.
“This is a personal matter for me,” he added. “My folks, ages 91 and 88, suffered in their teenage years as the Nazi blitzkrieg conquered our native Holland in 1940. In 1944-45, they and all Dutch people suffered as the Nazis, their evil nearing defeat, imposed a famine in Holland just before it was liberated by the Allies. My wife is also of partial Jewish ancestry.
“I also have long worked with local Jewish friends and groups to promote tolerance and fight hate. This also sparked in me an interest in California Jewish history, of which numerous volumes now are in my personal library.”
Moorlach said he supports “a response that seeks to educate these students on the real evils of Nazism and the Holocaust is an appropriate resolution to what was likely a poor and ill-informed high school gag.”
JSerra Catholic High School President Rich Meyer, Principal Eric Stroupe and Vice President of Mission and Faith Patrick Reidy co-signed a letter to parents condemning the photo and announcing that one of the school’s students, who was involved in the photo, has left the San Juan Capistrano school.
The images left school officials “angry, embarrassed and disappointed,” the educators wrote in the letter sent to parents Tuesday. “We later learned a JSerra student was in the photographs, which only amplified our emotions.
Anti-Semitic incidents were up 94 percent in our nation’s schools in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“While it is our policy to keep matters of student discipline confidential, we feel it is important to let you know the JSerra student in the photographs is now a former student,” the letter says. “In speaking with the student and the student’s parents, we fundamentally believe there is extreme remorse and contrition. Accordingly, we ask that you, as merciful people of faith who believe in redemption, please keep the student and the student’s family in your prayers as the student’s actions will have painful, long-lasting consequences. We fear people will seek retribution, when instead we should provide forgiveness.”
The JSerra educators emphasized that the school “has always included students and families of the Jewish faith” and “profusely apologize on behalf of the school.”
They said JSerra teachers focus on the “horrors of World War II” in the school’s curriculum, and, particularly, sophomore English students “spend the entirety of the second quarter working on the Genocide Project, where students are explicitly taught about the Holocaust.” And many JSerra students often choose to participate in Chapman University’s Holocaust Writing and Art Contest, they said.
But JSerra officials said they believe they can do more. In coming talks with students, the school “will focus on the scourge of racist attitudes and behaviors, addressing the issue from theological and moral perspectives,” they wrote.
(© Copyright 2019 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)