The headline of the October 23, 2020, Kveller.com article by Lior Zaltzman caught my eye: “A Teacher Made His Students Debate Hitler’s Final Solution. What Happened Next Was Incredible.”
And then I read the article:
In 2017 in Oswego, New York, in a college-level high school English class, a teacher asked his students to imagine they were high-ranking Third Reich Nazis during WWII and argue in favor of the Final Solution of the murder of Europe’s 11 million Jews.
One non-Jewish male student and one non-Jewish female student in that class – Archer Shurtliff and Jordan April – spoke up against the assignment. And their protests didn’t end there.
In what might be considered beshert (destiny) — Milwaukee author Liza Wiemer (pronounced Leeza Weemer) learned about this actual incident while on her way to Oswego to give a bookstore talk about her Young Adult book HELLO? As she walked into the bookstore, she recognized Jordan April, who worked there.
As the saying goes, the rest is history. Delacorte published Wiemer’s YA novel THE ASSIGNMENT in August (2020), and since then the novel has received rave reviews from teens and adults of all ages.
I had to “meet” this author:
Because of my free nonfiction theater project THIN EDGE OF THE WEDGE — developed for students to speak up against anti-Semitism and hate — I knew I had to connect with this author.
Thanks to her info on www.lizawiemer.com I made contact with her. And that’s when I moved THE ASSIGNMENT to the top of my reading list and read it over Shabbat.
Yes, THE ASSIGNMENT is a compelling read – and even more compelling because it is based on an actual anti-Semitic incident that took place in 2017 in New York!
Wiemer herself talks about the 1981 novel THE WAVE by Todd Strasser, also based on an actual classroom incident — this one in a Palo Alto high school history class in 1969, 48 years before THE ASSIGNMENT incident. We certainly have NOT come a long way.
For those who think what happened in Nazi Germany can’t happen now in the U.S., read THE ASSIGNMENT. And for those who think it can happen here, read THE ASSIGNMENT. It’s a compelling starting point for discussion with people of all ages.
“For those who think what happened in Nazi Germany can’t happen now in the U.S., read THE ASSIGNMENT”
In fact, Wiemer has been doing Zoom appearances with a range of age groups, from schools to senior citizens. She has received correspondence praising the novel from an 11-year-old and from readers in their 80s.
Wiemer has also received correspondence from people who spoke up about similar offensive assignments:
“When I started researching and writing this novel,” she said, “I had no idea how common these assignments are and how very few are actually reported. Since publication, I’ve received messages from several different people sharing their experiences with a similar assignment—not one made the news.
“Awareness is key. But it’s also important for all of us, especially young adults, to have an example of what it takes to speak up against injustice. It’s difficult.
“Several of those individuals who reached out were looking for additional support because confrontation can be uncomfortable and even frightening. Each one, however, understood that silence wasn’t the answer.
“When they spoke up, they got results, and those similar assignments will never be taught again.”
In these troubling times, we all need as much encouragement as possible to speak up against what is wrong. THE ASSIGNMENT is an engaging book that does that and more!
Phyllis Zimbler Miller is the Los Angeles author of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award semifinalist MRS. LIEUTENANT and the co-author of the Shabbat and Jewish holiday book SEASONS FOR CELEBRATION. She is also the co-founder of the free nonfiction Holocaust theater project www.ThinEdgeOfTheWedge.com to combat anti-Semitism and hate. The play is also available now in a professional German translation.