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School district reassigns assistant principal for her anti-Semitic Facebook post

Houston High School assistant principal Janna Matykiewicz compared vaccination cards to the yellow stars Jewish people wore during the Holocaust.

GERMANTOWN, Tennessee — UPDATE: 8/24/2021 Janna Matykiewicz, who was an assistant principal at Houston High School, has been removed from that position and reassigned with the Germantown Municipal School Disctrict. GMSD said parts of the investigation are ongoing.

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Houston High School assistant principal Janna Matykiewicz and history teacher Tony Benzing are being investigated by Germantown Municipal School District for anti-Semitic posts on Facebook.

Matykiewicz posted "What's the difference between vaccination papers and a yellow star? 82 years." Benzing defended the post. GMSD said it does not support the misuse of the trauma of the Holocaust or any part of the Jewish past for political purposes.

Several Houston High School parents and students want the assistant principal and a history teacher fired for anti-Semitic remarks. Assistant principal Janna Matykiewics posted on Facebook a comparison to COVID-19 vaccinations and the Yellow Stars Jews were forced to wear during the Holocaust.

Matykiewics posted, "What's the difference between vaccination papers and a Yellow Star? 82 years."

History teacher Tony Benzing took it even further commenting back and comparing Nazi Germany to the US government's overall pandemic response. Rabbi Sarit Horwitz of Beth Sholom Synagogue in east Memphis said there is no comparison.

"Vaccines are about giving life and upholding life for everyone, for ourselves, for our families, for our larger community whereas the mass genocide of the Jewish people was about killing people," Horwitz said. 

Several parents are furious over the comments.

"You’re thinking this person is teaching history at this high school," one parent said.

That parent, who wished to remain anonymous, is an ICU nurse caring for Covid-19 patients right now and has family who survived the Nazi occupation. She questions what else Benzing could be wrongly telling students.

"For our kids, they look to their leaders to set examples and I know a lot of the kids were pretty upset," the parent said.

Here is the full statement from GMSD: 

"Germantown Municipal School District does not condone the misappropriation or misuse of the Jewish past for political purposes. The trauma of the Holocaust should not be taken lightly, or diminished in any form or fashion. Any behavior that perpetuates the pain and hurt of one group of people has no place in our schools.

It is important that all families, staff, and community members feel welcome and valued, and we are committed to supporting any stakeholders that have felt marginalized by any such statement or sentiment.  If our students or staff, specifically our Jewish families, need support, our district is ready to work with individuals or groups. Our District values all input from our students, parents, and families.

One of Germantown Municipal School District's core objectives is that our staff recognizes & celebrates the diversity of all students and provides opportunities for inclusive practices. It is essential that every student and staff member feel safe and respected on our campuses."

A petition has been started by a student at the high school demanding both employees be fired. As of Thursday at 6 pm, more than 1,300 people have signed it. 

Here is the full post on the Change.org petition.

"Matykiewicz, an assistant principal for Houston High School, in Germantown, TN, posted a text on Facebook with, 'What's the difference between vaccination papers and a yellow star? 82 years.' Not only is this a complete ignorant statement, it is also completely anti-Semitic. Comparing a vaccine to one of the most tragic genocides in history is baffling. As a Jewish student in the student body, I wouldn't feel safe and accepted as I'm sure many others would with a person of power making anti-Semitic statements on Facebook. If Matykiewicz were to stay involved in the school or any other school in the district, count me out as being a part of GMSD schools. This isn't even your first Holocaust-related incident. For examples, the Nazis in your school yearbook dress-up. When your biggest schools in the district are having MULTIPLE Nazi-related issues, I think it's time to start making changes. These students in your school are the next leaders, influencers and possible notable people in the next decades. So educate them right, please. Do better, Houston."

Friday, a joint statement was given by ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), Jewish Community Partners/Memphis Jewish Federation, and Facing History and Ourselves. Here is that statement:

ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), Jewish Community Partners/Memphis Jewish Federation, and Facing History and Ourselves today issued the following joint statement in response to news reports regarding a Memphis area public school administrator’s social media comments.

During these challenging times of historic antisemitism, it is crucial that educators and community leaders recognize the significance of the Holocaust as the largest recorded genocide in modern history. Earlier this week, an assistant principal at Houston High School in Germantown, TN, posted on Facebook: “What’s the difference between vaccine papers and a yellow star? 82 years.”

The message comparing these dark chapters of our history to COVID-19 health guidelines to vaccinations trivializes the Holocaust in a way that deeply offends and discounts the pain and suffering of the Jewish community, and cheapens the memory of the millions killed by Nazis. There is simply no comparison between the systematic murder of over 13 million people, including six million Jews, and the efforts to save lives and keep communities safe amidst a raging global pandemic.

We appreciate the Germantown Municipal School District investigating this incident, look forward to the results of the investigation, and encourage all educators to exercise understanding and compassion as we all seek to emerge from this difficult time period while focusing on a safe return to school. We welcome the opportunity to engage with Houston High School and GMSD to educate leadership and students on the history of the Holocaust, as well as why such language creates pain in others.

Shabbat Shalom

-Memphis Jewish Federation