Over a decade ago, Vaughn Klingenberg, a Roseville-area man, self-published a book titled “The Big Lie: The Holocaust (An Introduction to the Greatest Fraud of the 20th Century).”
The book is dedicated, in part, to “the Germans, the Nazis, and Hitler—the real victims of the Holocaust,” and argues that Zionist Jews perpetrated the Holocaust in order to create Israel.
Speaking on a podcast in July, Klingenberg defended his views, insisting that, “us Holocaust truthers are doing the Jews a favor” and denying that Jews were gassed to death, or that six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis.
Now, Klingenberg is trying to bring his Holocaust denialism to Roseville public schools as a candidate for school board. He is one of seven people running to fill three open seats on the board, with his antisemitic views prompting condemnation.
“Roseville Area Schools strongly rejects any language or stance that denies the truth of the Holocaust and its devastating impact not only on Jewish people but our world,” Jenny Loeck, the Roseville district superintendent, told MPR News in a statement. “We stand for truth, human rights, and human dignity.”
Klingenberg’s run for school board gives a sense of whiplash to the Jewish community, coming off a legislative session earlier this year where Holocaust and genocide education was mandated for schools in Minnesota.
“How do you square a world where Dora testifies at 99…about the value of teaching about the Holocaust in public schools, with an individual like this potentially getting elected to the school board, or at the very least being a candidate?” said Ethan Roberts, deputy executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas.
In condemning Klingenberg, Roberts emphasized that there is no debate over the reality of the Holocaust and its historical record. Six million Jews were murdered because of the genocidal aims of Nazi Germany and Adolf Hitler in a well-documented campaign. (Blaming Zionists or Jews in general for the Holocaust is a persistent antisemitic conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.)
“We don’t debate whether the Holocaust happened or not, it’s beyond the pale,” Roberts said. “Debating whether the Holocaust happened is a posthumous victory for Hitler.”
There is also a physical danger to Klinginberg’s Holocaust denialism and antisemitism, with similar conspiracy theories forming the basis of attacks like the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. That’s why clear and open condemnation of these views is so important, said David Goldenberg, the Midwest regional director for the Anti-Defamation League.
“This type of language empowers and, in some cases, inspires people to take hateful action against members of the Jewish community,” he said. “If we don’t address it head on…we’ve seen what can happen.”
For Jacob Millner, director of the Minneapolis-St. Paul region of the American Jewish Committee, people like Klingenberg also warp a broader conversation about understanding the Holocaust. That memory and history should help us create a future without hate and bigotry, rather than being dragged down to addressing baseless conspiracy theories.
“We should be using [the Holocaust] as an opportunity to have conversations about how humanity can move forward, how we can create a better world for tomorrow,” Millner said. “We should be beyond this” denialism.
Klingenberg has a real chance of winning a seat on the Roseville school board, especially given the unpredictable nature of low voter turnout for off-year elections.
“There’s a real concern that someone who has these views, which are obviously reprehensible, might win if people don’t pay attention,” said Roberts, of the JCRC. “The voters of Roseville ought to know, they need to pay attention.”
This is also a cautionary tale for voters in other districts. The past few years have seen a wave of people running for school board who are intent on rewriting history and spreading conspiracy theories.
“No one should vote for [Klingenberg], obviously, but I hope every Minnesotan who reads this story will decide to take a closer look at the candidates for school board in their own community,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, an umbrella and advocacy organization for educator unions.
“We’re in a time when a toxic strain of MAGA ideology is sweeping across the nation and it’s focused on schools and students,” she said. “We all need to pay attention, get engaged, and vote in November.”