Syracuse, NY – Two Oswego high school seniors who made headlines for challenging a teacher who asked students to debate the merits and shortcomings of Hitler’s Final Solution were honored this weekend at a Holocaust remembrance program and praised for taking a stand against anti-Semitism.
As previously reported on VIN News (http://bit.ly/2pwPW6V), Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April were enrolled in a college level class at a state run BOCES program when they found themselves tasked with an assignment that asked them to argue in favor of genocide.
The two 17 year olds discussed the matter with their instructor, program administrators and their high school teachers, taking their story to the media and the Anti-Defamation League when their requests for an apology and a retraction of the assignment were initially refused.
Ultimately, the requested apologies were issued and the BOCES program agreed that the assignment would not be given in the future, with Shurtliff and April given permission to submit an alternate assignment.
Both students were invited by the Jewish Federation of Central New York to take part in its annual Yom Hashoah Memorial service which took place this past Sunday at Temple Adath Yeshurum in Syracuse in collaboration with the Syracuse Rabbinical Council.
Over 400 people attended the service which included recitation of Tehillim and Kaddish, lighting of memorial candles in memory of those who were killed and those who liberated the concentration camps and the readings of names of those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
The event also featured guest speaker Elfi Hendell, one of just several hundred who were rescued from Europe and brought to safety at a nearby refugee camp in Oswego, as reported by the conservative blog Legal Insurrection (http://bit.ly/2q4cnQw).
Shurtliff and April were honored as “upstanders,” someone who stands up for what is morally appropriate, explained Judith Stander of the Jewish Federation of Central New York.
“We felt as a committee, Yom Hashoah was an appropriate time to let the community know that there is another generation that was willing and capable to stand up to potentially anti-Semitic attitudes,” Stander told VIN News.
Stander said that she was excited to meet the two students, noting that each of them had arrived at the conclusion that the assignment was inappropriate independently of each other.
“We thought it was very timely, from a perspective of Yom Hashoah, to show how they stood up and said ‘this is not going to happen on my watch,’” said Stander.
Dr. Alan Goldberg of the Federation, who teaches a Syracuse University program teaching teachers how to teach the Holocaust, explained to the audience why the two high schoolers were being honored. The two students, neither of whom is Jewish, were seated in the front row and stayed for the duration of the 90 minute program, with Shurtliff wearing a yarmulka the entire time.
Prior to the memorial service, the Federation invited teens from the Jewish community to speak informally with Shurtliff and April.
“They met in the library and it was an opportunity for them to hear what other teens are thinking,” explained Stander. “It was quite an event.”
Shurtliff and April, who have been recording the saga of the assignment, placed a copy of their invitation to the memorial service in their “Chronicle of Activism Against the Final Solution,” and said that they were extremely grateful to have been invited to take part in the program.