Graduate Students

U. of Kentucky Afflicted by Spurious E-Mail Chain Letter About the Holocaust

November 08, 2007

The University of Kentucky would like you to know that it is not afraid to teach students about the Holocaust, no matter what a widely circulated e-mail message claims.

A digital chain letter, which first surfaced earlier this year, castigates the institution for allegedly eliminating the Holocaust from its curriculum in deference to a vocal Muslim community that denied the tragedy ever took place. “This is a frightening portent of the fear that is gripping the world and how easily each country is giving into it,” the messages goes on to say, before asking each recipient to “continue the memorial chain” by forwarding the note to 10 more people.

In fact, though, the university has never even considered jettisoning courses in the Holocaust. Kentucky offers an interdisciplinary minor in Judaic studies, and its history department devotes an entire 300-level course to the Holocaust, campus officials said in a written statement today.

So how did the university get attacked for playing down one of history’s greatest atrocities? It appears to be a case of mistaken identity. Earlier this year an almost identical e-mail message made the rounds, chiding the UK — the United Kingdom, that is — for eliminating Holocaust education from its schools. (That message was only marginally less misleading, according to the veteran debunkers at Snopes: In fact, just one British history department stopped teaching about the Holocaust because the subject was considered controversial.)

Evidently a recipient of that message misunderstood the meaning of “UK” and — voilà! — Kentucky was embroiled in an unflattering urban legend.

Angry telephone calls and e-mail from alumni started trickling in about six months ago, according to Allison Elliott, a university spokeswoman, and Kentucky officials responded to the complaints individually, quoting a statement from the university’s assistant provost. But lately, the calls have been coming fast and furious, so the institution is hoping a publicity push will end the myth once and for all.

“I thought the issue was dead,” said Ms. Elliott. “But it got really bad during the past week. Everyone in our office had gotten a couple of calls about this, and there were a few e-mails sent straight to our president’s account.” —Brock Read