Kris Kittell, who is running to unseat an incumbent in a Mequon-Thiensville School Board recall election, says the Holocaust references he posted to social media were not intended maliciously.
“I don’t have an antisemitic bone in my body,” he said.
Scarlett Johnson, Charlie Lorenz, Cheryle Rebholz and Kittell are all running to recall current school board members to “restore educational excellence back to the district,” according to promotional materials. Kittell is running against incumbent Akram Khan. The vote is set for Nov. 2.
Kittell reshared a social media post in September that said, in all caps, “It didn’t start with the gas chambers …. It started when good people turned a blind eye and let it happen.”
Another post from Kittell urges “all my lovely mask nazis” to realize that they are “following a religion not science.” (Face masks help slow the spread of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, according to the Mayo Clinic and the Centers for Disease Control.)
Another shared post features a picture of a man in a mask and a reference to Nazi Germany, with the question, “How could people let it get to that point?”
Milwaukee Jewish Federation issued a statement in October on Holocaust comparisons.
“The Milwaukee Jewish Federation is dismayed by the increasingly frequent Holocaust comparisons being made in local public discourse, as well as on social and news media,” according to the Federation statement. “Invoking Nazi imagery and rhetoric to express a position on public health protocols and other current issues that do not involve the systematic genocide of an entire people, trivializes the brutal murders of the six million Jews and five million other human beings. It harms the Jewish community and others by dishonoring the memories of family and loved ones who were killed, as well as needlessly stirring up painful experiences of Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”
The Federation statement acknowledges that individuals are entitled to their opinions on public policies. But it adds that “making false equivalencies to the Holocaust must be condemned because they open the door to Holocaust denial and other forms of dangerous antisemitism. The Jewish community calls on our elected officials, community leaders, and engaged citizens to stop using the Holocaust to make political points. It is unacceptable, and those who do so must be held accountable.”
Kittell, however, has another view.
“I stand behind the fact that we can’t forget the past,” he said, noting that identification cards were used for evil in Nazi Germany. “It was part of the persecution of the Jews.”
The Holocaust didn’t just start with the camps, he said. Kittell indicated that he believes that small steps can lead to tyranny.
One of his several social media posts obtained by the Chronicle includes the letters, “WWG1WGA,” which is sometimes shared by QAnon followers and is typically read to mean, “Where we go one, we go all.”
But Kittell said he has nothing to do with QAnon and was just resharing someone else’s post about not turning a blind eye.
He also said he has support from within the Jewish community.
“We’re not a group of radicals,” said Kittell, a home remodeler. “It’s anti-government control.”
“If some of those pictures had something that offended somebody, I didn’t make these memes up. I don’t even know how to do that. It was probably just something that came across my Facebook and I shared it back to my friends … in an argument about masks.”
Kittell said his top issue is that he wants to see math education improved in schools. His opponent, Khan, is director of instruction for Kumon Math & Reading Center of Mequon.
Holocaust must be seriously studied
“From 1933-1945, the Nazis targeted Jews and other minority groups though persecution, violence, and ultimately death,” reads the Federation statement. “The Holocaust should be remembered with sensitivity and studied with precision in order to accurately understand the lessons of this history; it should not be exploited for opportunistic purposes.”
The Federation has invested in Holocaust study and remembrance.
“The lessons from the Holocaust teach us to treat each other with dignity, to promote empathy, and to pursue respectful relationships, particularly across lines of difference,” according to Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation. “That’s why we invest in programs that contribute to building a vibrant and interconnected community in which Jews can thrive.”
The Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center, Jewish Museum Milwaukee, and Jewish Community Relations Council are all programs of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation that educate about the Holocaust and promote a more interconnected community, she said.
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Milwaukee Jewish Federation offers resources for the community:
Nathan and Esther Pelz Holocaust Education Resource Center
Contact: HERC@MilwaukeeJewish.org | HolocaustCenterMilwaukee.org
Services: Educator workshops, printed and digital lesson plans and resources, community programs
Jewish Community Relations Council
Contact: KaiG@MilwaukeeJewish.org | MilwaukeeJewish.org/JCRC
Services: Antisemitism audit, incident response, speakers and educational resources
Confidential reports of antisemitic incidents can be made at MilwaukeeJewish.org or a link at JewishChronicle.org.