Sandy and Karen Teplitzky, AB ’72 and AB ’74, respectively, never imagined they would befriend a former neo-Nazi. That changed when they met Jeff Schoep, once the leader of a white nationalist organization who left the movement to campaign against it. The Teplitzkys met Schoep through the work of the Simon Wiesenthal Center (SWC) — a Los Angeles–based Jewish human rights organization dedicated to tolerance education. “I was a little suspicious,” Sandy Teplitzky says. “Can somebody change like that? But I consider him a very close friend now.”
The Teplitzkys, who met at WashU in the early 1970s, have dedicated themselves over the past decade to work focusing on combating hate and practicing tolerance, most recently through the Mobile Museum of Tolerance (MMOT) based in Chicago. Launched in 2021 and modeled after the Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center’s “Tour for Humanity” bus — an educational initiative that has toured hundreds of schools in Canada since 2013 — the MMOT uses interactive lessons to reach students across Illinois. To date, the bus has visited more than 80 schools, with almost 13,000 students in grades 6-12 experiencing its message. Students learn about the Anne Frank story, the civil rights movement and the power that everyday people can wield for good — and ill.
“One of the films that we show is The Power of Ordinary People, which explains how Hitler got ordinary Germans to just go along. Our educator reminds students how to be upstanders, not bystanders, in similar situations,” Sandy says. The purpose of the session, he says, is to help students realize that they can take an active role in identifying and preventing intolerance in their communities.
It’s not just for students. The MMOT also offers resources for teachers, faith groups, law enforcement agencies, businesses, and community and government leaders. “Sandy and I are both Jewish, and we certainly had an extensive Holocaust education. But what I love about the content is that even I learned something new,” Karen says.
Last summer, the Midwest office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center named the Teplitzkys their 2022 Spirit of Courage Awardees for being “passionate supporters and sustainers of the MMOT since its inception.” In addition, Sandy is now a trustee of SWC.
Much like the namesake of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Holocaust survivor who went on to become a Nazi hunter, Karen’s cousin, Efraim Zuroff, director of the SWC in Jerusalem, has spent his career finding Nazi war criminals and bringing them to justice.
But as the days of World War II–era Nazi hunting end, other ways of combatting hate are ever more necessary. “There aren’t many Nazis to chase anymore,” Sandy says. “At least not the old Nazis. But intolerance is gaining. Antisemitism, racism, homophobia. It’s all growing. We must be vigilant, because if good people don’t speak out, the bad people win.”