An Interview with Eve Shalen Krakowski
Eve Shalen, a high-school student, reflected on her need to belong.
"Usually, people are made outcasts because they are in some way different from the larger group. But in my class, large differences did not exist. It was as if the outcasts were invented by the group out of a need for them. Differences between us did not cause hatred; hatred caused differences between us." (watch video)
In 1994, Eve Shalen was an 8th grader in Chicago who participated in a Facing History and Ourselves student discussion panel with Holocaust survivor, writer and humanitarian Elie Wiesel. The reflection she shared from her essay "the in-group" has become a reading used in Facing History classrooms around the world. Now married and the mother of four children, Eve is pursuing her Ph.D in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
More than fifteen years since she had the opportunity to speak with Elie Wiesel, Eve Shalen Krakowski recalls the experience in an interview with Facing History staff member Marti Tippens Murphy.
Do you still think about the dilemma that was posed in your essay?
Recognizing the moral impact of even very small actions that we take on a daily level as being of the same quality as huge historical moral decisions-that's something I think about all the time.
What was it like interacting with Elie Wiesel?
My grandparents are Holocaust survivors and the Holocaust was very much a hidden presence in my life growing up. They didn't ever talk about it and yet I always had an incredibly strong sense of it. Because of the way my own family is, it was the first time that I actually heard somebody who had been through those events open up and talk about them and put them in a context that did relate to the world as I knew it.
Standing up in this public forum and saying something so personal which I probably would never had thought to do or had the courage to do was really powerful. I can't say that I was the perfect teenager after that happened. But it was one of the first times that I really was pushed to think seriously about my own behavior in the context of other people's behavior.
What you described was very ordinary in a way. Just about everyone can relate to being included or excluded in school, but we don't often take the opportunity to reflect about the experience and connect it to larger societal questions about good and evil.
I pointed out a type of marginalization that has nothing to do with the sort of typical categories that we tend to invoke when we think about it. It had nothing to do with race, gender, religion or anything like that. It just had to do with social marginalization that can happen in any group-even if everybody is exactly the same as each other.
I continue to think that this is an important thing to think about. In the milieu that I grew up in, it was easy to talk about racism as a problem or sexism as a problem. It wasn't as commonly done to step back and think about personal or social interactions that didn't necessarily plug into any larger view of oppression.
Did you know your essay is being used in classrooms?
I have seen on the Internet that the essay is a presence. The first time I became aware that my essay was in your book (Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior) was when I was in high school and my family went over to somebody's house for dinner and the kid said "you're in my textbook."
What do you hope for your children?
I'll come back to the same thing I said about myself-I really want them to have a strong sense of the importance of the small actions that they take in interacting with others....
 Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior, p 29. Eve Shalen appears in the video A Discussion with Elie Wiesel: Facing History Students Confront Hatred and Violence