De Toledano,









M. Wesley




Can you start about the boy...

(Crew discussion)

INT: So could you tell me about the second incident at Connogle Park with the boy and his mother at the end of term?

FE: Yes. I had a boy by the name of Lenovska in my senior journalism class that was responsible for putting out the Hunter's Call, the student newspaper. He did very well up to a certain point. Mid-semester, he asked if he could write a column called 'Digging the Dirt'. Now he had not been elected to student body offices or to World Fringe Club offices that distinguished the leaders and the brightest and best of the student body and he was rather envious, I think that was the origin of 'Digging the Dirt', beside family influence of gossip and so forth. And so, I asked that he wrote a sample and presented it to the staff of the Hunter's Call and they had been well-drilled in the elements of journalism. They refused it unanimously, because of the nature of the proposed column, and then I concurred with the staff. Consequently, one day, I heard a click, click, click of heels coming down the empty hall, it was the last day of school, my door was open, and a woman appeared there and asked 'Are you Mrs. Eisenberg?' I said, 'Yes, would you like to come in?' She said, 'No, this is Len, my son's report card. You gave him a B in journalism? You dirty Jew, I'll get you for this.' I was stunned. So were the janitor who was cleaning the hall and a teacher whose door also was open, they came running to me and this was the beginning of an attack upon me as a Communist teacher up there at the High School.

INT: OK, that's great. Now we're going to jump forward and go to the hearings again. Can you just tell me what actually happened at the hearings, what, you know, what accusations were brought against you and how you responded and so on.

FE: The chief accusations brought against me at the hearings before the California Un-American Activities Committee was that I was teaching Communist doctrine. I was in favour of the United Nations and that this was contrary to the American Constitution. Now as a teacher, I had sworn to uphold both our national Constitution and the State Constitution in order to acquire a teacher's licence to teach. I felt that I was doing my duty, since the United Nations' Charter and the origin of the United Nations was incorporated into the new school curriculum and I was a teacher who was teaching advanced Social Studies, I was supposed to teach the youngsters about the United Nations. In fact, we were so excited about the prospects for peace in the world after a devastating World War Two, that we were the first high school in my memory to send a student to a meeting of the United Nations. In fact, he went on a scholarship, because he had passed a test, he knew what the Charter contained. Harrison Schmidt was his name, I'll never forget him, nor that whole incident.

INT: So what was the Committee's sort of response to all this?

FE: The Committee simply ignored, at that first session, my rebuttal that I was teaching the course of the Board of Education's course of study, because I was transferred from the school, because of the influence of these people who had brought the Committee to the little town of Connogle Park and the temper of the times was such that investigations went on of writers, of Hollywood stars and in this climate of Communist hunting, the Committee pursued school teachers. I was one of several who was summoned again and again before the State Committees.

INT: Were you aware that you were involved in some sort of purge?

FE: Yes, to some extent, because the Hollywood Ten had all been fired from their eminent [laughs] studio positions and we had heard, but vaguely, that teachers in New York City had been summoned and that there was this attack on civil liberties going on throughout the country, with the aim of controlling public opinion. Frightening the American public into thinking there was a Communist menace ready to take over our government, which is, of course, completely false.

INT: OK, now given the climate of the time, in the sort of broader perspective, what sort of facets do you think of what you were doing attracted this attention on yourself?

FE: I think what attracted attention was that these fundamentalist Republicans were politically oriented and their votes counted. All the people that attacked us were running for office. They used this method, as did indeed even President Nixon, to enhance their popularity and their possibility of being elected for office. We were being used, when this climate of opinion was created...

INT: (Interrupts) And your union activities, was that important...?

FE: Oh yes, and the union of the Los Angeles Federation of Teachers, of which I was a founding member and editor of its paper for many years, it also was attacked, because there were members of the Board of Education that were very violently opposed to teachers' unions and here there were a bunch of Communists who were organising the teachers and dictating to them what the teachers' salaries should be and their conditions of work. Absolutely ridiculous.

INT: Now were you angry through most of this time? What did you feel? You know, did you feel it was an infringement of civil rights and liberties and so on?

FE: Oh indeed I was. I had been an honour student [laughs] at UCLA, I had been chosen as a teacher from USC to teach in Oakland, one of eight chosen with the highest recommendations in the state. I felt as if I were a devoted person to education and my scholarship was impeccable. And so why did they pick on me? I think this whole thing originated in anti-Semitism of the Nafsigger family and also a very prominent Republican women in Encino. this little town was quite in contrast to Connogle Park. It was the centre of wealthier people and many Republicans lived there. I had, in my class room, according to the mother's feelings, ridiculed her son. He had come into class and stepped on his desk, creating quite a disturbance. So one day, I went down to the local Connogle Park furniture store and got a high chair and brought it up to school and much to the amusement of his fellow class mates, requested that he sit in the high chair if he wanted to pound his desk. Well, the mother was infuriated by this teaching method and she really brought about my transfer from Connogle Park. But it was a collusion of this anti-Semitism and this Republican outraged mother that brought about this transfer, after I had taught at the school for soeighteen years and had national recognition for excellence in my journalism classes.

INT: Now when we talked before, you sort of mentioned a comparison that was very interesting betweethe stories your parents told you, coming from Russia and about the pogroms there and what you realised you were going through here. Could you just very succinctly sort of summarise...?

FE: Yeah, I'll try. We four children were raised by a Russian Jewish family, both the father, mother and grand-parents, who had left Russia because of the dreadful pogroms or, to translate that word, was purges that were carried on by the Tsars, Cossacks, who drunken at holiday season, usually Easter, would invade the little Jewish enclave around Kiev, where my parents lived, and grand-parents, and actually set fire to the town and used their swords rather cruelly and this, my parents said, they could no longer endure and so they decided to come to the United States and here they felt the children had so much more of a chance for an education. My mother never learned to read and write in the old Tsarist Russia and I was the first to teach her by reading Anna Karenina to her.

INT: Did you recognise at some point there was a parallel?

FE: Yes, I felt that the state, that the...


INT: Could you just start again, I felt that the state...

FE: I felt that the State of California was adopting some violent methods, similar to the ones that I'd heard about as a child. How could they ask... Why would they ask me, a law-abiding citizen, a student who had graduated from, honours from a public university, who had shown my eagerness to teach the American Constitution and the State of California Constitution and follow the course of study prescribed to my students, for all of eighteen years? Why suddenly was I a subversive and a danger to the country that I had lived in since my birth? I was born in the United States.

INT: That's a great answer, OK. Now during this time, you know, it was spread over quite a long period, were you aware that the FBI were interested in you?

FE: Oh, I knew. Was the FBI interested in me? I knew that for a long time, because out of my window I could see two men, always there were two in black suits, who came very early in the morning and knocked at my door over and over again, over maybe a period of a year. And they said, 'Mrs. Eisenberg, we'd like to ask you some questions.' And I said, 'Who are you?' 'We are from the FBI.' Well, I closed the door immediately and I was trembling in fear. Why would they come to my door at six am, sometimes even earlier, to question me about my loyalty to my country?