One of the challengers running in the Mequon-Thiensville School Board recall election has shared social media posts with Holocaust references in them, which drew condemnation from the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, a program of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.
Kris Kittell shared his post on his Facebook account: “It didn’t start with gas chambers. It started with one party controlling the media. One party controlling the message. One party deciding what is truth. One party silencing speech and silencing opposition. One party dividing citizens into ‘us’ and ‘them’ and calling on their supporters to harass ‘them.’ It started when good people turned a blind eye and let it happen.”
The post also included the letters “WWG1WGA,” an abbreviation often used by QAnon that stands for “Where we go one, we go all.”
Kittell also shared a post with images from the Holocaust and the words: “Any government with enough power to demand that you carry around papers in order to move around freely is more dangerous than COVID-19.”
Other posts Kittell shared included one with a man with a mask and face shield on reading a book with references to Nazi Germany that said “How could people allow it to get to that point?” and one with a picture of a sign reading “If you’ve ever wondered whether you would have complied during 1930’s Germany, now you know.”
Kittell did not respond to phone calls and emails requesting an interview.
Samantha Abramson, executive director of the Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, said the organization has noticed Holocaust and antisemitic references being made “with disturbing frequency” both locally and nationally.
“We believe that invoking Holocaust, Nazi imagery and rhetoric to express a position on public health or other current issues that are not involving the systemic genocide of a people, it trivializes the brutal murder of the 6 million Jews and 5 million others during the Holocaust,” said Abramson in a phone interview Wednesday.
Abramson also talked about the effect of those statements on the Jewish community, Holocaust survivors and their families, as well as the public.
“It harms the Jewish community because it’s dishonoring the memories of the families and loved ones who were killed during this historic event. It can re-stir painful memories for Holocaust survivors and their families who have this as part of their family history, and it really misinforms the public at large about what the Holocaust was. So it really doesn’t do a good service to the past or present when we have these comparisons,” she said.
Other Holocaust references
Kittell isn’t the only one using Holocaust references.
In June, three Wisconsin lawmakers — Republican state Reps. Shae Sortwell, Tim Ramthun and James Edming — compared the Holocaust to COVID-19 vaccine rules and potential gun restrictions.
According to an audit of antisemitic incidents by the Milwaukee Jewish Community Relations Council, a function of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, there were 99 reported and corroborated incidents in 2020. That’s a 36% increase in incidents over 2019.
An attempt to improve education about the Holocaust was made through a bipartisan bill signed by Gov. Tony Evers in April that requires education on the Holocaust and other genocides at least once in grades five through eight and at least once again in grades nine through 12.
Abramson said the Holocaust is a challenging topic to discuss and that society can learn from what happened during that time.
“I think sometimes there’s a temptation to equate one historic event with a current moment. What we want to do with the Holocaust — or any historic event — is learn from it. We want to study what happened so we can make the world better in the present, but we don’t want to equate one with the other because when you make these false comparisons, it creates a false narrative,” Abramson said.
Background on the recall
Kittell and challengers Scarlett Johnson, Charles Lorenz and Cheryle Rebholz are running against incumbent school board members Wendy Francour, Erik Hollander, Akram Khan and Chris Schultz in the Nov. 2 recall election.
Each candidate had to select a candidate to run against. Kittell is running against Khan, Rebholtz is running against Francour, Lorenz is running against Hollander and Johnson is running against Schultz.
The recall grew out of concerns over COVID-19 mitigation protocols, critical race theory and a decline in academic performance, according to Amber Schroeder, one of the co-organizers of the recall effort, in June. She also said that the board has abdicated its duties to Mequon-Thiensville School District Superintendent Matthew Joynt. Schroeder reiterated that the board was abdicating its duties in August when she and Johnson filed recall petition signatures with the district.
The incumbent board members challenged the petitions in September. Those challenges were unsuccessful, as the signatures were certified and the board voted Sept. 22 to put the four incumbents up for recall.
The winners of the seats held by Khan and Schultz will hold them until April 2022. The winners of the seats held by Francour and Hollander will hold them until April 2023.