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Education

School removed a quote from a Holocaust survivor, unintentionally proving his point

"We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim."

elie wiesel, holocaust, bucks county pennsylvania

Elie Wiesel at the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland in 2008.

A school principal in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia, asked the librarian to remove a poster featuring a quote by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel because it violated the district’s “advocacy” policy. This story was first reported by WHYY.

The poster was removed two days before International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“If I didn’t take it down, I knew there would be consequences that could impact me,” Matt Pecic, the school librarian said. “It’s a horrible feeling. And you feel like you have to do something that you don’t agree with.”

The controversial policy says that district employees may not “advocate” to students on “partisan, political, or social policy matters,” or display any “flag, banner, poster, sign, sticker, pin, button, insignia, paraphernalia, photograph, or other similar material that advocates concerning any partisan, political, or social policy issue.”


On one hand, it makes sense because schools should foster an educational environment that isn’t steeped in politics. On the other, complete neutrality allows bad ideas to flourish.

The quote in question was from a speech Wiesel gave while accepting the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986:

“I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

Wiesel received the Nobel Prize for his efforts to defend human rights and peace around the world. He is best known as the author of “Night” (1960), a chilling book based on his experiences with his father in the Nazi German concentration camps at Auschwitz and Buchenwald from 1944 to 1945.

The irony of the school removing the poster is that it was in the name of staying neutral, while the quote was expressing the fact that neutrality always favors oppression. To take things a step further, Wiesel's quote was based on his experience living through the horrors of Nazi oppression. So he was advocating for something we can all agree on: basic human rights.

The school’s actions went public after the Bucks County Beacon posted about the story on Twitter. The tweet has been seen by over 430,000 people and sparked a lively discussion.

“Who would be providing the other side’s views?” Buckcho asked. “So maybe something from Mein Kampf? I don’t mean to state the obvious, but some statements do not have a balanced opposition,” Gail Kristin Upp responded.

The good news is that the posters were put back up the next day, and in a statement, the district noted that “Night” was part of its curriculum. The district also apologized “for any hurt or concerns this has caused, particularly for those in the Jewish community.”

After the school’s decision was reversed, Pecic papered the entrance to the library with the quote.

The story is a great reminder that even though there may be multiple sides to every argument, not all ideas should be treated equally. And even though we live in a world where everything seems political, there are certain ideas, such as basic human rights, that should always be held above the fray.

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