As the New York Times pointed out, PTA listservs are not known to provoke heated moral controversies. But a message sent to the email list of New York Public School 290, a sought-after school on the Upper East Side, has created a serious stir among its recipients. Michael Santomauro, the parent of a 3rd-grader at P.S. 290, sent an image of the cover of Debating the Holocaust: A New Look at Both Sides, with the message “You should read this book! It is rocking my world!”
Santomauro realized his mistake a few moments later, when several parents wrote outraged messages back. He said that he had meant to send it to another listserv, and apologized for the “total confusion.” Two parents have already contacted the Anti-Defamation League, although the school has not. The regional director explained that Santomauro was a “hard-core Holocaust denier.”
The message was shocking not just because of the content but because many parents did not realize that Santomauro, the editorial director of a press which publishes authors whose works question the Holocaust, but who live in countries where doing so is a crime. Santomauro’s house has been protested in the past, and he says that he has recently received threatening phone calls.
Santomauro says that he is not a Holocaust-denier, but that he is merely trying 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.”
One thing is clear: the book that Santomauro inadvertently advertised to his child’s classmates’ parents gives serious credence to the idea that the Holocaust might be a massive hoax. In the introduction to the book, which is available online, the author writes, “We vist Holocaust museums. We take college courses from endowed chairs in Holocaust stores. This is not by accident. It is a deliberate plan, to make sure that we ‘never forget.’ And if we can never forget, we should at least get the story straight.” It seems unlikely, reading this, that Santomauro is trying to start a debate instead of proposing the highly offensive view that one of the worst genocides in history was a political invention.
Whether this should result in better policing of the PTA listserv is another question. One parent responded pragmatically, saying that she “came to the conclusion that this guy is a moron.” She added, “I am sure that that parent won’t make that mistake again.”
And she’s probably right. However offensive Santomauro’s views are, the most the school can do is what it did, which is to say that they do not endorse anything he says. Santomauro can apologize again (and he probably means it, given that he’s getting in an undesired media firestorm as a result – although having a spotlight on his odious activities is probably a good thing), but short of creating new rules about how the PTA listserv is used, the consequences for Santomauro may not be severe. At least they can be sure that Santomauro won’t be sending out any of his anti-Semitic publications to their list in the future.
Photo from Flickr.