Wednesday, January 26, 2011
E-Mail About Book Questioning the Holocaust Shakes a School
The e-mail list of the Public School 290 PTA is a useful source on matters like fund-raising, after-school programs and the rules for the talent show coming up. It is not known to provoke strong feelings
But the message that went out at the wee time of 2:18 a.m. on Jan. 16 disturbed many of the parents who bothered to read it. “You should read this book! It is rocking my world!” read the message, floating over a book’s cover. The cover had a dark Star of David at the bottom, the Nazi flag at top and the title in between: “Debating the Holocaust: A New Look at Both Sides.”
The sender, Michael Santomauro, whose son is in third grade at P.S. 290, on the Upper East Side, said Tuesday that it was not until minutes later, when two parents replied with complaints, that he realized his mistake. He meant to send the message to another group he belongs to, where members debate whether accounts of the Holocaust are exaggerated, and he apologized to the parents for the “total confusion.”
Still, the damage was done, and school officials and parents, many of whom are Jewish, were stunned not only by the e-mail, but also that there was such a parent in their midst.
The principal, Sharon Hill, called Mr. Santomauro to ask if his e-mail account might have been hijacked, or a virus had taken control of his computer, and he told her what had taken place.
She then wrote to the school’s parents, saying “e-mail can be either an extremely useful or dangerous tool” and reassuring them that “neither the school or the PTA support the views or opinions that may be implied by the author in this particular e-mail.”
In an interview, Ms. Hill said the school was “taking the matter very seriously.” To the parents, she wrote that she would contact the Anti-Defamation League to “seek further clarity.” By Tuesday, she had not, but two parents had, said Ron Meier, the league’s regional director.
He called Mr. Santomauro, 61, a “hard-core Holocaust denier” who has promoted his beliefs through mass e-mail mailings that are not always wanted.
In the past, protesters have chanted “evict the Nazi” in front of his apartment building on the Upper West Side. This time, Mr. Santomauro said, he has received threatening phone calls, and he has filed a police report.
Mr. Santomauro is the editorial director of the American division of Theses & Dissertations Press, which publishes authors who question the Holocaust but live in countries where doing so is a crime. It also published the book he recommended in the e-mail.
He said he did not deny the Holocaust, but merely wanted to encourage debate. “There’s not hate coming from me,” he said. “There’s no reason if you question aspects of what may or may not happen or what murder weapon was used during the Holocaust that you should be called an anti-Semite.”
Melinda Battelli-Scopaz, the parent of a kindergartner, said when she read the e-mail that she “came to the conclusion that this guy is a moron.”
“I am sure that that parent won’t make that mistake again,” she said.
Posted by Seth Kalichman at 4:43 PM