He pays to teach

Many teachers rightly complain about low salaries. Professor Harvey Gotliffe, however, has a different dilemma. He has to pay to teach.

Three years ago, the veteran teacher at San Jose State’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications introduced a course titled “World War II Coverage by the American Media of Holocaust Concentration Camps and Internment Camps for Japanese Americans.”

Students — Jewish, Asian and everyone else — responded strongly to lectures by Gotliffe, appearances by Holocaust survivors and Japanese internees and trips to their homes.

Yet, since the course is an elective, Gotliffe has been unable to line up permanent funding for it. In order to teach it, he must drop another course — and compensate the instructor who teaches that class. The bill: nearly $5,000.

“It’s a pain going everywhere hat in hand,” said a laughing Gotliffe, who recently hit up some old buddies at his 50th high school reunion for several thousand dollars. So far, he’s lined up about $4,200, including contributions from two Chinese American former students.

“If the university stays in dire financial straits, as it is, this is the only way [the course] will be taught.”

Gotliffe has saved the course once again this semester, but has no idea about the future. In the past, he has received grants from the Koret Foundation — but not this year.

He’s getting older, fund-raising is difficult and he’s running out of foundations, friends and relatives to hit up. He’s always thinking about next year, and those interested in funding the class can e-mail [email protected] or call (408) 924-3246.

“If I had $4,000, I’d gladly give it to them, but I don’t have it,” said Alicia Appleman Jurman, a Polish-born survivor and author who has spoken to the class several times.

“It’s a very important course not only because it teaches about the Holocaust. It’s teaching values. It’s teaching family love. It’s teaching commitment. It’s teaching morals. And it’s teaching what young people are all about. We have known such terrible fear since 9/11. [The students] learn how to cope with fear.”

Gotliffe’s lectures on the dearth of journalistic attention to the Holocaust when it occurred hit home for Chayale Ash, a Romanian-born survivor. Now, the day’s events are broadcast worldwide on television. This was not the case when she was a slave laborer in a Ukrainian wheat field.

When it comes to the Shoah, the media of the 1940s “did not address it at all. Not a word was done in the time of war. Some people didn’t even know what we were talking about,” said the former Yiddish actress.

“It was like an apathy, like a general silence from everyone. They were afraid to talk about it.”

Survivors like Appleman Jurman and Ash relish any opportunity to speak with young people. Gotliffe also sees the opportunity to educate students about the successes — and shortcomings — of the media through the decades, and their duty as potential future journalists when it comes to covering human rights abuses both here and abroad.

“I think there will always be someone there to try and deny us our civil rights,” he said. “I make the kids very well aware of what happened then and what could happen in the future.”

After nearly two decades at SJSU, Gotliffe knows he can’t teach forever. But, without funding in place for the course, it would retire with him.

“When I retire, I don’t want the course to die,” he said. “I don’t think it should die. We should keep our eyes open and jab the media when they’re not doing a good job.”

He doesn’t have to convince Ash.

“At the time of the Holocaust, we didn’t have the luck to have such technology, to see what was happening,” she said.

“It’s very important for mostly the younger generation to see the real truth, what happened. If a Holocaust survivor is not the one to tell the truth, who will be?”

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.