A Catholic elementary school has removed a quote attributed to Hitler that was part of a Grade 8 graduation picture display — after it hung in the gym for nearly two days.
Staff at Holy Rosary Catholic School were made aware of the quote — “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened. (Adolf Hitler)” — after basketball players, who use the gym for evening games, complained.
“We are deeply sorry that this has happened,” said Toronto Catholic District School Board spokesperson Shazia Vlahos on Friday.
She said staff at the school, located near Bathurst St. and St. Clair Ave. W., spoke with the student who is “deeply apologetic,” adding, “We believe the student made an honest mistake.”
The boy had searched online for an inspirational quote and didn’t know who Hitler was, the board spokesperson said. He didn’t know Hitler’s German Nazi regime was responsible for the murder of 6 million Jews — and millions of others, including Gypsies and homosexuals — in the Second World War.
Vlahos explained the school removed the quote when notified, adding staff are “deeply upset that this was not caught sooner and for the oversight during graduation preparations.”
“Staff will ensure that this never happens again and have taken this as an opportunity to review the importance of research and fact checking with students.”
Avi Benlolo, president and CEO of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center for Holocaust Studies, was surprised the incident occurred at a Catholic school, saying the Catholic board has made a big effort to promote Holocaust education.
“It does showcase that Holocaust education is necessary,” said Benlolo. “It’s not a Jewish matter, it’s a Canadian matter because Canadian forces went over to fight the Nazis and liberate Europe from Germany.”
The incident unfolded after a supply teacher on Tuesday asked graduating students to come up with an inspirational quote to accompany a self-portrait, which would be displayed for graduation.
The boy googled and settled on “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” — a sentiment that summed up how he felt about graduating from Grade 8.
The actual quote is often attributed to Dr. Seuss, but its origins are unclear.
The teacher did not review the students’ work before the kids hung it up on Wednesday, the board spokesperson said. And, in the busy period leading up to the graduation ceremony on Thursday afternoon, staff did not notice the quote.
During graduation, a slide presentation included students’ quotes. Only then did an acting principal spot the Hitler reference, but did not want to interrupt the presentation. The boy’s mother, who saw it too, went home that evening and explained to her son about the German dictator.
Staff remained oblivious to the quote on the wall, but a group of basketball players, who rented out the gym Thursday evening, spotted it. In disbelief, with some quite upset, they contacted the school.
When it came to the principal’s attention Friday morning, the quote was removed.
Vlahos said on Friday that staff also spoke with the boy, who was “visibly upset by what had happened” and “expressed sincere apologies for not knowing any better.”
Isabel Teotonio is a Toronto-based reporter covering education. Follow her on Twitter: @Izzy74