Author and Professor Peter Hayes Speaks at Jewish Community Center

The Jewish Community Center hosted a talk with author Peter Hayes Monday night, where he spoke about his latest book, “Why? Explaining the Holocaust.”

The Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis (Image courtesy of

The Jewish Community Center of Indianapolis (Image courtesy of

Hayes’s talk capped out the three week spanning Ann Katz Festival of Books and Arts, which sought to display various film, artworks, performing arts and authors related to the Jewish Community.

This year marked the 19th anniversary of the festival.

Hayes taught at Northwestern University for 36 years up until 2016, serving as a professor of History and German. Since 1991, he has served as the Theodore Z. Weiss Professor of Holocaust Studies.

“In the first three or four times when I tried to teach the history of the Holocaust in nine weeks, I didn't do very well,” Hayes said to the audience. “It is almost impossible to teach a subject with such a long antechamber and such a consequential aftermath in that period of time.”

At the university, he received its highest honor for teaching, the Charles Deering McCormick Professorship of Teaching Excellence, among other awards.

“I realized that my students were actually delivering to me a way of organizing this material, because year after year, they would come into the course with the same basic set of questions.”

Currently, Hayes chairs the Academic Committee for the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

“It’s important to know the warning signs for danger, which is why studying history, why we study it all, is to sort of figure out what are the signs that we can interpret in the present, beyond.”

His book, “Why? Explaining the Holocaust,” seeks to explain and correct theories about the lead-up and aftermath of the Holocaust.

“‘Why didn't more Jews fight back?’ is a question that my students posed all the time, which I always thought was the most painful question to have to deal with, because it showed a complete incomprehension of what the Jews were up against.”

The cover of “Why? Explaining the Holocaust” (Image courtesy of Amazon)

The cover of “Why? Explaining the Holocaust” (Image courtesy of Amazon)

Along with “Why?”, Hayes has published 11 other books, including “Industry and Ideology: I. G. Farben in the Nazi Era” and “The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies.”

Hayes had spoken in Berlin prior to Monday’s talk.

“He is a real scholar,” Lev Rothenberg, director of Arts and Education, said. “He's a scholar that has chosen to shine his intellect on his research in this one particular area.”

Rothenberg has been involved with the center for 11 years, eight of which have been involved with the festival.

“I kind of got promoted into the position, I began working specifically on adult education and eventually I became Director of Arts and Education.”

Starting Oct. 23, the festival hosted five authors, four film, two performances and three other events. Artwork and books were also on display for sale throughout.

“The purpose of the festival, above and beyond all else, is to build community through the arts,” Rothenberg said. “And by community, I'm talking about community in the JCC, but we're also talking about the community in all of central Indiana.”

The Jewish Community Center itself has been in place in Indianapolis since 1914.

“The mission of the center is something to the effect [of], ‘To reflect jewish values through and diversity and tolerance, through the arts, through education, through wellness and through fitness.”

The center is not limited to persons of Jewish faith and/or heritage, inviting everyone to visit and participate.

“Over 60 percent of our members are not Jewish,” Rothenberg said. “But they're very comfortable being an integral part of the Jewish Community Center.”

Those interested can schedule a tour of the center here.

“I think that next year, in a sense, the sky's the limit,” Rothenberg said. “We're gonna have more, we're gonna have authors, we gonna have more than authors, we'll bring in plays and playwrights.”

As for the center itself, Rothenberg said, “I can say [that] the JCC already is, but will continue to be a center for values, a center for wellness, a center for arts and education that will attract people from all around our community.”

With the current political climate, many attendees felt the need to hear Hayes address the Trump administration.

“I think Trump is a would be authoritarian,” Hayes responded. “He's a kind of amateur at being an authoritarian, so he's mostly bluster, and bullying, but there are no Trump troopers in the streets.”

However, Hayes still warned “[When] police violence is used for political purposes, that's a dangerous tripwire. Closing a newspaper is a dangerous tripwire, defying a court order is a danger. These are things that you look for, and when they happen, you know, we'll all have to go into the streets.”

The center will next host a Holiday Artisan Bazaar on Nov. 19 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.