Auschwitz: Essay on whether it really happened.
A new program for Holocaust studies at the University of Haifa is allowing students to shine a light on their families' own personal histories. Photo by AP
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A California school district is under fire after eighth-graders were given an assignment to write an essay explaining whether they believed the Holocaust was a real historical event or a political scheme to influence public emotion and gain.

"It was an error," Syeda Jafri, spokesperson of the Rialto Unified School District near Los Angeles, said on Monday.

In a statement on its website, the school district maintained that there was no offensive intent in the assignment, which was designed to "exercise the use of critical thinking skills."

Earlier, the Anti-Defamation League and several other Jewish rights groups called or emailed the school objecting to the assignment.

"This assignment mistakenly provides moral equivalency between history and bigotry," said Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Associate Dean of the Los Angeles-based center.

One person made a number of calls to police with some very specific death threats, said Rialto police Capt. Randy De Anda. The threats were specific and directed at Jafri and interim Superintendent Mohammad Z. Islam, De Anda said.

"We believe he (the caller) is a white male in his 30s. He did give us a name, but we haven't confirmed it yet so we don't know it he's a previous student."