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August 20, 2021 12:08 pm

Tennessee School Teachers Under Investigation for Antisemitic Facebook Post Comparing Vaccine Refusers to Jews Persecuted by Nazis

avatar by Ben Cohen

The antisemitic post on Facebook written by Houston High School assistant principal Janna Matykiewicz. Image: Screenshot.

An assistant principal and a history teacher at a high school in Germantown, Tennessee are under investigation following protests from students over an antisemitic Facebook post promoted by both of them that compared Americans who refuse the COVID-19 vaccine with Jews persecuted by Nazi Germany.

The now-deleted post was made by Houston High School assistant principal Janna Matykiewicz, with a supportive comment added by Tony Benzing, who teaches social studies at the same institution. A screenshot of the post was featured on a petition launched by Julien LeVine-Miller, a Jewish student at the school, demanding that Matykiewicz be fired for her “completely ignorant … completely antisemitic” post. The petition has so far garnered more than 2,000 signatures.

In her post, Matykiewicz wrote, “What’s the difference between vaccination papers and a yellow star? 82 years.”

In the US, France, Germany and other countries, the burgeoning vaccine refusal movement — frequently employing antisemitic conspiracy theories and scientific falsehoods — has appropriated the “Judenstern,” the yellow Star of David which the Nazis forced Jews to display on their outer clothing, to assert that people who freely refuse the vaccine face the same plight as Jews did during the Holocaust. The meme has been bolstered in recent weeks with the introduction of “vaccine pass” schemes by local and national governments around the world that permit access to public places only to those who are vaccinated.

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Responding to Matykiewicz, Benzing wrote: “82 years…Apparently, a generation doesn’t seem to know their History…the yellow star just targeted Jews…the vaccine papers don’t discriminate.”

In his petition, LeVine-Miller remarked that “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 antisemitic 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 [Germantown Municipal School District]  schools.”

He continued: “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.”

Matykiewicz’s post was described as a “completely ignorant statement, it is also completely antisemitic. Comparing a vaccine to one of the most tragic genocides in history is baffling.”

Another student at the school told Memphis-area news outlet Commercial Appeal that she too felt unsafe in the presence of Matykiewicz.

“As a student body, we are scared and outraged,” Sophia Overstreet said. “We feel like our voices aren’t being heard and our safety isn’t being considered.”

A local rabbi also voiced her concerns about the Facebook post. In an email to Matykiewicz, Benzing, school principal John Taylor, and Superintendent Jason Manuel on Thursday, Rabbi Sarit Horwitz — spiritual leader of Memphis Beth Sholom Synagogue — charged that the post displayed utter ignorance of the facts of the Holocaust. Nobody advocating such beliefs should be teaching children, the rabbi argued.

“Comparing vaccine requirements to the systematic execution of 6 million is not only wrong, it is abhorrent, disgusting and hurtful,” Horwitz’s email read. “Weaponizing the great trauma of the Jewish past for your political gain is offensive and completely inexcusable, particularly as individuals that shape the minds of our future.”

Horwitz called the post’s comparison of vaccine refusers with Holocaust victims “a gross misappropriation and misuse of the Jewish past, of Jewish trauma.”

Germantown Municipal School District has now launched an investigation into the incident. Its spokesperson, Kate Crowder, emphasized that the 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,” Crowder said. “Any behavior that perpetuates the pain and hurt of one group of people has no place in our schools.”

Crowder added that if, as a result of the incident, “our students or staff, specifically our Jewish families, need support, our district is ready to work with individuals or groups.”

Crowder would not say whether the employment of Matykiewicz or Benzing had been terminated, or if either employee was currently working in the school building.

“This matter is currently under investigation,” Crowder said. “The District does not provide comments on active investigations.”

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