In 1982 I was approached by a human rights organization to run a program to introduce the Holocaust to high school and college curricula. I knew a bit about the Holocaust, having lived in both Germany and Israel, but I was hardly a scholar. So I immersed myself in the subject, including time spent down at the Museum of Tolerance in LA. (It has a Hebrew name, as well, which I preferred: Beit HaShoah—House of the Holocaust). Then I hit the road.
This was back in the early ‘80s, remember. There were no classes on the Holocaust in most universities; same with antisemitism. No memorials outside of Israel. Germany was just starting to confront its history in schools and society. And the US was just, well, clueless, as evidenced by the responses I generally received to my initial outreach.
The responses generally fell into one of two categories: 1) We don’t like to take sides in political issues; and 2) We don’t have a Jewish Studies department. The answer to the first was, it’s history, not politics. The answer to the second was that my name was Thomas Patrick Hogan—you couldn’t get more goyish than that. Once they realized I wasn’t one of those “pushy Jews” trying to insert my biases into their curricula, we usually had interesting conversations that often ended with an invitation to conduct my training for teachers and my weeklong program for students.
The standard program was five days: Day 1 was an intro to antisemitism and what the world was like in the years leading up to 1939 and the start of WW II. Day 2 was how Hitler systematically dismantled German institutions, using antisemitism as his primary cudgel. Day 3 they saw a film. Day 4 (always the most memorable day) was a visit from a Holocaust survivor, a friend of mine who had survived six camps. And Day 5 was bringing it back home, looking at our own history, not so much in the area of antisemitism but in our campaigns against Native Americans (that Hitler studied and remarked on) and African Americans.
The program made local news wherever we went, due primarily to the students’ reactions to being able to hear from—and later, visit with—Anne Tieger, the Holocaust survivor who went with me for every Day 4. While the responses were overwhelmingly positive, I did receive hate mail with each visit, which I often shared with the school officials so they could see the need for making this program a standard part of their curriculum. To their credit, most of them did.