Many words can be used to describe Paul Smith: beloved teacher, Holocaust education veteran, founding IHE council member and Nebraska Holocaust Consortium co-creator are just a few of them. Having taught English for 37 years, Holocaust education has been part of his world for well over half that time. While he currently teaches with Crete Public Schools, he spent 13 years teaching in Wyoming and another 22 in Lincoln.
While in Wyoming, Paul had a dear friend, a Holocaust survivor who lived in western Nebraska. The friend passed away in 1996, the year Paul moved to Lincoln. With his death, Paul saw the reality that the memories and stories of this terrible time would soon be lost unless educators took action. It was then that he created a semester-long course studying the literature of the Holocaust, other genocides, current issues about man’s inhumanity to man and social justice.
“I have always been interested in the Holocaust - I guess in reasons for it; when man has such a potential for good, why do we choose evil?”
When Paul met Beth Dotan in 2000, she was just beginning her work at the newly formed IHE. They discovered their shared passion for Holocaust Education, and Beth asked Paul to be on the Governance Council. He has been there ever since, engaging with teacher education workshops, Yom HaShaoh Commemorations, working with the Holocaust Memorial Project that culminated in the dedication of the memorial located in Wyuka Cemetery, and more. His list of Holocaust educator achievements are long, including Belfer and other USHMM conferences, as well as being named Nebraska’s first Freedom Writer teacher. He organized trips to USHMM for his students and was invited to go on The March of the Living to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII.
His passion for teaching the Holocaust, however, has shaped more than just his classroom and professional life. Paul is an active member of Southern Heights Presbyterian Church social justice committee and regularly visits prisoners on death row in the Nebraska State Penitentiary. He tries to embody his favorite quote from Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”