When Raymonde Fiol was 6 years old, she was smuggled out of a Nazi internment camp “under the noses of the Germans.”
The young Jewish girl hid with a French family for the duration of World War II.
Holocaust survivors such as Fiol are volunteering to speak to students at local schools “because we can show them what really happened.”
Her resolve to do so is fueled by the recent uproar caused by a Clark County School District gym teacher, who is accused of telling students the Holocaust did not occur.
“We’re outraged,” said Fiol, 73, the president of Holocaust Survivors of Southern Nevada. The group has about 300 members, half of whom are survivors of the genocide. Their spouses also are members.
“This is an affront to us all,” Fiol said.
The names of Fiol’s parents, David and Liba Nathanson, are engraved on a memorial in Bulson, a French village northeast of Reims where they worked as forced laborers until they were deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, where they were killed.
The survivors’ group once had a “speakers bureau that went into the schools,” Fiol said. “However, I think it fell apart. I’m going to try and resurrect it. That’s my intent because these schools really need it.”
Lori Sublette, a gym teacher at the Northwest Career and Technology Academy, a magnet high school, is accused by students of denying the Holocaust in class in November. The 51-year-old teacher is on leave with pay as the district investigates.
In the wake of the controversy, Michael Rodriguez, a district spokesman, said Northwest is considering several options, including inviting guest speakers to special assemblies to teach students about the Holocaust.
Several students from Northwest, on Tropical Parkway near Durango Drive, have sent e-mails to the Review-Journal, saying that stories about the teacher’s Holocaust denial have been overblown and that Sublette is entitled to her opinions and freedom of speech.
A call to Sublette’s home was not returned Tuesday. She previously has refused to answer questions. Under district policy, teachers are not supposed to speak on topics outside their expertise.
Some students worry that Sublette might be fired.
“This is America, and she has the right to express her opinion. While a classroom might not be the right place to do that, she still should not be penalized for it,” one student said in an e-mail. He requested anonymity.
The same student disputed the perception that the teacher’s comments helped create a poisonous atmosphere at the school. “Mrs. Sublette never said anything threatening … towards Jewish people or anyone, she just stated her disbelief in the matter. That was all, nothing threatening or bigoted in that, right?”
Another student, who said he is Jewish, said he never felt “singled out” in Sublette’s gym class. He said his religion is so well-known at Northwest that many of his peers simply call him “Jew.”
Also at Northwest, Clark County school police are investigating a threatening text message received by a different Jewish student. The text mentions cutting the throats of “slut(t)y Jews.” The writer claimed to be related to Adolf Hitler.
School police Lt. Ken Young said he did not want to rush to conclusions about the nature of the crime, saying, “We don’t have enough information at this point to substantiate it as a hate crime.”
What is not in doubt is the Holocaust survivors’ contempt for the thinking that Holocaust denial can be defended as “opinion.”
“This is not opinion,” Fiol said. “This is an outright lie. You don’t fabricate it. Tell it to the 6 million people who died. Oh, no. It didn’t happen. How can she even think of saying that? That’s definitely anti-Semitic, it’s anti-Gypsy, it’s anti-homosexual; it’s anti-everything. I’m sorry. It’s not an opinion.”
The evidence, she said, is overwhelming.
“All the German records have been opened,” Fiol said. “The Germans kept a lot of records. They wrote it. It was in their handwriting how many people they slaughtered.”
Edwin Black, the New York Times bestselling author of “Nazi Nexus” and other books on the Holocaust, said the Holocaust was different from earlier acts of genocide because it was “industrialized.” The Nazis took advantage of technology to track and identify Jews, confiscate their assets and ship them to death camps.
So Black was astounded to hear comments about Holocaust denial from a teacher at a technology academy.
One student said Sublette told her class that the Nazis did not have the technology to carry out the Holocaust.
“One of two factors is at play: extreme ignorance or extreme bigotry,” Black said. “Neither one has a place in a technologic school.”
Contact reporter James Haug at email@example.com or 702-374-7917.