Vol. 81, No. 4, April
Putting Out the Fires of Hate
Through storytelling, attorney Timothy Scott takes his listeners
inside one of the most hateful episodes in human history - while also
asking them to examine
the roots and consequences of hate in our world today.
by Dianne Molvig
On a January morning in Medford, Wis., attorney Timothy Scott stands
at the front of
a room filled with some 100 people. As he relates details about a series
murders, he pauses occasionally for a few seconds to allow his listeners
to absorb what
they're hearing. Silence hangs in the air until he resumes speaking.
Contrary to what you might think, the event unfolding here is
not a homicide
trial. The setting is not a courtroom, but a classroom. And Scott is
neither a prosecutor nor
a criminal defense lawyer, but a lawyer focusing on bankruptcy and
municipal law in
his practice at Bakke Norman S.C., New Richmond.
The silence that hovers in the room during Scott's pauses is
sustained by a roomful
of Medford seventh- and eighth-graders. That may seem incredible to any
spent time amid gatherings of 12- and 13-year-olds. But these young
people are listening
intently to Scott's two-part, three-and-a-half-hour-long presentation
about one of
the worst crimes in human history: the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi
Scott's purpose, however, is to deliver more than a history
lesson, as suggested
by the title of his presentation - "The Holocaust: Its Relevance
Today." It's part
history lesson, part examination of contemporary society. Scott tells
usually seventh- to 12th-graders, "I don't believe the Holocaust is
lame history. Nor do I
think we should shut up about it and move on. What does the Holocaust
say to us today?"
With that overarching question, he asks audience members to
consider how the
specter of the Holocaust persists and spawns hateful actions in today's
world - not only in
such faraway places as the Congo or Darfur, but also in their own
communities and schools
- and in each person individually.
Scott presents this message about 60 times a year to students in
Wisconsin middle and high schools. He has been doing this for about 17
years and has found
he strikes a chord in his young audiences, as evidenced by their
That January day in Medford, for instance, two eighth-grade boys
came up to
Scott after his presentation to shake his hand and thank him. "This
hits you right here,"
said one of the boys as he struck the middle of his chest with his hand.
Sometimes Scott gets standing ovations from students at the end
of his talk, and
he always finds their written responses powerful. These come to him in
the form of essays
he asks the students to write after his visit, which schools forward to
For example, some years ago one 11th grader wrote:
"When you began today's lecture, I believed all of the
ideology concerning the
Nazis and the Holocaust was a big joke. When I would walk into German
class, I would say
[to the teacher], `Sieg Heil. Heil Hitler' or `Guten Tag, mein Fuhrer.'
Now I don't
think I'll be doing that."
An eighth-grade student wrote:
"Ever since you talked to us, I've been thinking about
the candle, that if we find
a flame [of hate] burning inside of us, we should blow it out. I have
made a late
New Year's resolution to blow out that flame."
Beginning with a Book
When Scott himself was an eighth-grader in Medford, he stumbled upon
entitled Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness
Account, by Miklos Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jew. Once
Scott started reading it, "I couldn't put it down," he
recalls. "I was mesmerized by what
was described in there. I had this question: `How could so many people
have gotten so
involved in such horrendous evil?' I remember swearing to myself that
someday I would
go see where this happened."
Students at Van Brunt Middle School, Horicon, put themselves inside
the story of the Holocaust as attorney Timothy Scott asks them to think
about how hate touches their lives today.
He kept that promise. While he was a student at St. John's
Collegeville, Minn., where he majored in German and humanities, he spent
a semester studying in
Austria. He visited the concentration camps at Dachau, Germany, and
"I spent an entire day wandering through Dachau asking `Why?'"
He was back in Europe to visit these and other camps in the
summer of 1983. By
that time, he'd become a high school German teacher at St. Lawrence
Seminary in Mt. Calvary,
where years before he'd been a student and considered a vocation in the
Eventually he decided to become a lawyer, like his father and
three of his
siblings. After graduating from the University of Minnesota Law School
in 1988, he got a
fellowship to study German law and earned his LL.M. degree at
Tübingen, Germany. He lived there for two years and continued to
explore Holocaust history.
Back in Wisconsin, various groups invited Scott to talk about
camps he'd visited. His presentations to school groups became a fairly
regular activity in
the early 1990s, when Scott was a law clerk for Judge Thomas Utschig at
Bankruptcy Court in Eau Claire. He became friends with a local high
school German teacher, who
asked Scott to speak to his classes.
"One teacher talked to another, and the calls started
coming in," he says. The
word got out to still more teachers when Scott spoke at teachers'
conventions in Eau Claire.
In 1994, Scott joined the Bakke Norman firm, which has a long
community service. To honor George Norman, who died in 1994, the firm
launched a public
lecture series focusing on human rights issues. Scott was an organizer
for the lectures,
which featured such speakers as Alfons Heck, a general in the Hitler
Arun Gandhi, grandson of Mohandas Gandhi; Martin Luther King III; and
Sister Helen Prejean
of Dead Man Walking fame.
While Sister Prejean was in Wisconsin in late 1999 to give a
lecture, she did an
interview with a Twin Cities television station. She suggested to the
reporters that they talk to Scott about his efforts to spread awareness
about the Holocaust.
Not long after that, the station did a five-minute segment about
Scott on the
evening news, followed by a morning show with viewer call-ins. That led
to more requests
pouring in from schools wanting to hear his presentation. "I got
inundated," Scott says.
From mid-November to mid-May each year, Scott presents two talks
a week, on
average, to school audiences. Schools are not his only venue. He's also
professional organizations, church groups, teacher in-service trainings,
social workers, college
students, and prison inmates.
He emphasizes that he can do this only because of the support
from his colleagues
at Bakke Norman and the nature of his work schedule. As a municipal
lawyer, much of his
work involves attending evening municipal board meetings, allowing him
to give daytime
presentations at schools. He relinquished his partnership in the firm
several years ago so
he could continue to do his presentations, while still practicing law.
Creating a Mental Movie
Scott's program has evolved over the years, but it's always relied
heavily on putting
the listener inside the story of the Holocaust. He uses only a few
visuals, preferring to
let listeners create their own mental images as the story unfolds.
"Storytelling is incredibly effective with all ages,"
Scott observes. "Young
people often write to me and say, `I went home that night and thought I
had watched a movie.'"
He tells his audiences that during the Holocaust the Nazis
murdered an estimated 7
to 10 million Jews, gays, Romani, and members of other targeted groups.
But then he
brings that statistic down to the experiences of one individual. In the
story, he puts the
listener in the shoes of a 10-year-old Jewish youngster living in a
leaving the listener to choose the gender and other traits as he or she
As the story begins, the 10-year-old hears the fearful
whisperings of his or her
parents, when they think their children are out of earshot, about
violence against Jews
and others in Germany. When the protagonist is a bit older, the mother
about Krystallnacht, a night in 1938 when the Nazis dragged Jews from
their beds and
killed them in the streets and destroyed some 8,000 Jewish businesses
and 1,000 synagogues.
By the time the story's main character is nearing high school
graduation, all Jews
are banned from universities, dashing his or her dream of becoming a
doctor. Then one day
the entire family gets orders to report to the town square for
two hours of storytelling, Scott takes the listener into the horrors of
the cattle car
and the death camp, through the eyes of the story's young central
Early on in presenting to school classes, Scott recognized the
need to add a
second component to his program. This stemmed out of "having open
eyes and ears while living
in Wisconsin," he says. "I'd hear comments about the Hmong, or
the blacks, or the
Indians, or the gays - you name it - often from people I'd never have
expected to say such
things. It shocked me at times. And I thought, `Wait a minute. That's
how it started in
From History to Current Events
"Gays and lesbians are wrong and they shouldn't be in the
U.S. Catholics, I feel
sorry for them, because they don't believe in the real God - Jesus
Christ and God. I'm
not really racist, but I dislike Indians today
Wisconsin." - excerpt from eighth-grader's essay
"I see the spirit of the Holocaust every day. People are
calling people fags,
niggers, and losers. They call me that, sometimes every day. And I know
how those others feel;
it hurts. I mean people are teasing others so bad that they don't feel
they deserve to
live anymore, so they commit suicide." - excerpt from
The second part of Scott's program focuses on the "flames
of hate," as he
describes them, that rage today close to home. To illustrate examples,
he reads aloud from
newspaper clippings about recent occurrences in Wisconsin and
neighboring states, as well
as from students' essays from other schools - or even from written
received from a few students. He forewarns his audience members they're
about to hear
offensive material, but he doesn't censor because eliminating offensive
words often would
make sentences unintelligible.
Scott remembers one incident in a small-town high school in
western Wisconsin when
he was reading aloud from a Madison newspaper story about a group of
thugs who set out,
they said, "to beat the s*** out of that faggot." Four
11th-grade boys in Scott's
audience broke out in raucous laughter, something he says happens
rarely. He paused for a
few seconds, said nothing, and continued recounting examples of other
episodes of hate,
prejudice, and racism happening in our state or nearby.
As he did so, he became aware that something else was happening
in the room,
although at first he wasn't sure what it was. Then he noticed two Hmong
girls - the only two
in the room - who were crying. Clearly, the racist remarks and incidents
hearing about were all too familiar in their own experiences.
"Their crying became more obvious and pronounced,"
Scott recalls. "Then a girl
sitting next to one of them put her arm around her. A boy sitting behind
them reached out to
put his hands on their shoulders. Gradually everyone in the room became
aware of what
was going on. There was a palpable, collective sadness that went through
"The right words don't always come to me, but that day they
did. I said, `A few
minutes ago I read something that was hateful, and four of you laughed.
I don't know
that I'll ever understand that laughter. But I do understand these
tears. That's how it
is when prejudice, hate, and racism come home and touch someone we know
and care about.
No one in this room is laughing now.'"
On a Mission
"I don't care one bit about those hubcap stealing,
drug-dealing, Velcro hair,
big-lipped, Alabama porch monkeys (niggers) and those short, slant-eyed,
rice-chewing, dog-eating, tax-evading, welfare-junkie,
gooks." - excerpt from eighth-grader's essay
"Some of the people at [our high school] scare me. When they
grow up and are living
in the real world, what will it be like? I think we've always stayed
just barely within
the bounds of disaster. The spirit of the Holocaust is definitely alive
today. I see it
every day and it sucks." - excerpt from 10th-grader's essay
Scott has no illusions he'll get through to everyone in his
audiences. All he can
do is plant the seeds of new ways of thinking that might take root
"I'm the kind of person who just has to do something like
this," he says. "I've
always felt that when I come to the end of my life, I want to be able to
say, `I gave it
my best. I made a difference.'"
He admits that giving the presentations is draining, in terms of
both time and
energy. And during each program he, too, relives the Holocaust horrors.
But in spite of the
darkness of the story, he sees a positive impact.
When asked what keeps him going, he immediately responds,
"Without question, it's
the essays I get from young people who can tell right from wrong. It's
the eloquence of
their words." A case in point, extracted from the essay of an
"It appears that many ignore the words of hate, allow them
roll off their backs.
Some cringe at the sound of the filth and even fewer stand up and shout
the two most
important words that could be said at a time like that - `Stop it!' It
is because of the lack
of courage that the flame of hate burns, and to answer the question
posed during your
presentation - the Holocaust does live on."
Molvig operates Access Information Service, a Madison writing and
editing service. She is a frequent contributor to area publications