Narrator: James Hilb
Interviewer: Skye Doney
Videographer: William Tishler
Date: 8 March 2019
Transcribed: Skye Doney
Total Time: 1 hour, 16 minutes
Editing: Kyle Jenkins, Greg Konop
James Hilb biography:
Jim Hilb graduated with a BA-History and Economics from UW-Madison in 1968 having had George L. Mosse as his educational advisor. He furthered with an MBA-Marketing and Economics from the University of Cincinnati’s Carl H. Lindner School of Business in 1972, and recently completed studies in Chinese Mandarin for Business-Miami University (Ohio) 2013-2014, Farmer School of Business. Jim has enjoyed a successful business career based in Cincinnati, Ohio, as an owner and team participant of multiple businesses specializing in fashion accessories, sports marketing and promotional products. He has served on several boards and shares a passion for the Mosse Program in which he has been recently involved and deeply committed. In 2019, Jim attended the George L. Mosse 100th Anniversary Birthday Conference in Berlin, Germany.
**To access the OHMS oral history page for James Hilb, which allows listeners to search text or keywords and to listen to specific sections of this interview, click here.**
Doney: This is Friday, March 8th, 2019, and we are in the DCS Studio, 7427 at 21 North Park Street interviewing James Hilb. Well, we’re just going to jump into the very beginning, which is when and where were you born? And what kind of milieu were you born in? What was your, what were your early days like?
Hilb: Well, I was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. I was the son of first-generation German immigrants from Germany. My father was born in a little town called Göppingen, which is just east of Stuttgart. And my mother was born in a little village that’s claim to fame was a panzer battle in World War II. A little village called Heßdorf, which is approximately one hour north of Würzburg, Germany, in Franconia, I believe it is.
And my parents recognized early on, or they were dating at the time of the ascension of Adolf Hitler to power in 1933. And my mother’s family decided that they would immigrate, or emigrate to the United States from Germany, in approximately 1935, 1936. Their family settled in New York, came through Ellis Island, ultimately settled in Cincinnati, Ohio. And a year after they arrived in Cincinnati, they funded my father and his two sisters and one of their husbands to, and mother to come to Cincinnati as well.
They arrived at 1937. My parents were married in 1937 in Cincinnati. They were born as Orthodox Jews in their various communities. My father was the founder of an Orthodox Jewish synagogue in Cincinnati. And ultimately, as I grew up in that milieu, I, I recognized very early that Orthodox Judaism, while I was very proud of my Judaism and its heritage, I sort of rebelled against that because I am a Reformed Jew. After my bar mitzvah, I dropped out of the Sunday School and started attending a reform congregation in Cincinnati, the Isaac M. Wise Temple, where a lot of my friends and co-conspirators, so to speak, hung out.
So had a very good childhood. My parents took care of me very well. My parents were all gainfully employed. And I grew up in a rather normal, middle-class Jewish situation during my growing years.
Doney: Great. Could you talk about any family members or teachers who encouraged you in your early life. What made you decide to go to university? Which universities were in the cards?
Hilb: Well, neither of my parents were educated beyond, actually my mother did not even go get a high school education. My father graduated high school, commonly known in Germany as Gymnasium, in the town of Göppingen. And both my parents were street smart. Both my father was very successful in business in Cincinnati for many, many years until his death in 1990.
And I attended Walnut Hills High School in Cincinnati, which at that time was the only college preparatory school in Cincinnati, you had to take exams in order to get into it, rather than the other public high schools around the city. So I had a very, very good upbringing as far as education was concerned, I believe. I was always interested in history. Science was not my forté. I freely admit that.
And I was always interested in history, from certainly I was history and then read a lot about Nazism and fascism and certainly Bolshevism before that and Russia and so on. And when I began looking for colleges, I had heard about the History Department at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a very good friend of our family was a professor of history at Rice University in Houston, Texas, who was also born in Germany and his mother grew up as a friend of my mother in Germany.
And when he found out I was interested in the University of Wisconsin, he said, “if you go and decide to go, you need to make sure you take classes from George Mosse.” He knew George Mosse, not well, but he heard of George’s reputation. And the areas of German history and Nazism and the Holocaust, especially eugenics and some of the topics that he was very famous for, for teaching. He also, his best friend was another professor, European history at UW-Madison Ted [Theodore] Hamerow. He also was friendly with Michael B. Petrovich, who was a professor of Russian history. All of whose courses I took, not as many as George Mosse. George Mosse ended up being my advisor while I was here at UW. And for that, I’m, I’m very, very grateful.
So it just sort of migrated to Madison. I did not want to go to local colleges in and around Cincinnati or in the state of Ohio. I applied to all colleges outside of the state of Ohio. And when it came down to a choice, I selected UW-Madison, which was the right decision for me. Very productive four years. And a tumultuous time as well as we all know.
Doney: Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about that. So you entered as a freshman in what year?
Hilb: I entered as a freshman and September of 1964.
Doney: And then you would have graduated in May of 68?
Hilb: That is correct.
Doney: Yeah. It’s a very, very interesting time. Did you see coming into the university a connection between politics and history?
Hilb: Right away I saw a connection. There was always the thought that the three most liberal universities and the universities in the United States at that time known for anti-war protests, especially as the Vietnam War became more and more advanced. There was Columbia University, University of California, Berkeley, and UW-Madison. Those are, those are the big three back in those days. And certainly I have a lot of photographs from those days, films from those days, that I’ve, that I’ve kept in my archives at home.
It was a very tumultuous time, not only for the country, but certainly here at UW-Madison it was very tumultuous as all of us well know. I recall especially my senior year, it was the spring of 1968, this was after the Dow Chemical situation back in October, which I’m sure we’ll get to talk about a little bit. But in the spring, there was some antiwar protests going on and they became more and more advanced and began to get national coverage from, from the national media in those days. And there was a day, I believe it was in March of 1968, that Bascom Hill was filled with crosses representing the deaths of American soldiers during the Vietnam War and some of the other conflicts in the far East Asia. And it was just a rainy, miserable day. And there was a also, I have a picture of a beagle hound soaking wet lying under the entrance to Bascom Hall, under the sifting and winnowing plaque. That sort of summed up the entire feeling of that time it was that day more than anything else, probably was, was, was really a watershed for a lot of what was going on at that time, which culminated around that time in, of course, with some of the events that came on with the National Guard after I graduated in 68, but culminating in the bombing of Sterling Hall in [August 24] 1970.
So it was a tumultuous time, an interesting time and certainly the, the, the interaction between the university administration, the City of Madison, the University Police, all of that factored in to the experience of being, being here in Madison during that time.
Doney: Yeah. Did you get involved in student activism?
Hilb: Yes, I did. I was, I was involved in some of the protests. I was also involved in the students for McCarthy for president campaign in 1968, I took Peter Jennings (1938-2005), the late Peter Jennings who was with ABC News at the time. I drove him around Madison during 67 and 68 when the national media was here covering that.
As far as activism is concerned, yes, I participated in some of the protest movement. I just tried to stay away from the violence. I just abhorred violence. So I wasn’t involved in the violent element of it, thank goodness, but was involved certainly, to the degree that I that I could.
Doney: Yeah, you talked a little bit about the mood of the campus in the spring of 68. How did the, sort of the feel of the campus change over the course of those four years? Or did you note any, just a general mood shift among the among the students between 64- 68?
Hilb: I think there was a general mood shift. There certainly was the, the element of the students who were anti-war, the liberal students. And certainly there were the students on and administration officials and city and state officials who were on the other end of the spectrum.
As the generation shift, if you will, amongst the Board of Regents, became more conservative. If I can use that word. That changed and they were more restrictive to what was going on. Certainly some of the people involved in the university administration, I’m trying to recall some of the names like Robben Fleming (1916-2010), I believe was chancellor at that time, William [Hamilton] Sewell (1909-2001).
Robben Fleming, I believe succeeded Fred Harvey Harrington (1912-1995). If I’m not mistaken, I hope I have that right. Dean Leon Epstein (1919-2006) from the political science department. These are all people that I had come in contact with in some cases as professors in some of the classes that I took. And you could sense that there was a rift not only with, with the position of the war in Vietnam, but the position that if I can use the words the traditional conservatives and the traditional liberals and some of the middle of the roaders.
You definitely could sense that there was very politicized back then. There were two student newspapers, The Daily Cardinal, and then I honestly don’t recall the name of the other car-, the other newspaper that was sort of the more conservative or more right-wing newspaper that came up around that time [The Badger Herald (1969)]. But overall, I think much of the administration of the university was more moderate-leaning or more liberal-leaning. Whereas the Board of Regents and some of the state administrators were more right-leaning if I could use that term. And there was always a little bit of a chasm that you could almost sense and feel. If you stood up the top of Bascom Hall and looked down State Street to the, to the capital. There was definitely a chasm that began to develop, I’m sure, in 64, 65 and then just progressed with more of a division after that.
Doney: Before we talk about Mosse, I want to talk about some of the other professors you took classes with.
Doney: I don’t particular order if there is, if there are any moments from non-Mosse classes that sort of stand out, or experiences with the department, we could go into some of those.
Hilb: Well I certainly remember not within detail necessarily, but I certainly remember classes that I took from Michael Petrovich in Russian history. I believe it was a couple of courses of Michael Petrovich I took in Russian history. Ted Hamerow in European history, another European history professor here at UW. I took classes from Harvey Goldberg, the socialist Harvey Goldberg, took a class from him, which certainly was, was very, very interested and very, very interesting. On the American history side, Norman Risjord (b. 1931), took a number of American history classes from Norman Risjord, Merle Curti, David Cronon. In poli sci, I said Dean Leon, who became Dean Leon Epstein. The famous [John Thomas] Salter (1898-1973) political science course, Salter under the stars, everybody, many people took that course too.
So, and art history, too. I took a number of art history courses. James Watrous (1908-1999), who was head of the Art History Department at that time, I took a couple of art history courses from, from, from James Watrous.
Notice I don’t mentioned some of the professors from the science area. Science was not my forté and I freely admit that. So that was rather forgettable.
Hilb: I did take French for a couple of years, my freshman and sophomore years. And but from the History Department, those are some of the names that that I that I certainly remember and recollect and thoroughly enjoyed being part of the History Department and all that went with that.
Doney: Did you have any sense of competition for students among the professors or anything like that?
Hilb: Not not that I recall.
Doney: Sometimes people talk about perhaps Goldberg versus Mosse. And I wonder if you have any sense of was there a competition between the two of them for students?
Hilb: I’m sure there was. I didn’t either sense it or didn’t pay attention to it or maybe was too naïve to think about it. But I’m sure that existed to me because both of both of those men, Harvey Goldberg and George Mosse were very, very prominent figures, very outspoken individuals within their expertise areas and so on. So I’m sure there were, there was competition. Maybe because I was too young and naïve as I said, maybe I just didn’t recognize it or pay attention to it, but. But I didn’t, then one other one that I think I should mention was William Appleman Williams (1921-1990), in the American History Department, although he was not here, I think he left the year prior to my beginning my studies at UW.
But certainly I’d read some books from William Appleman Williams, and he went out, I believe you went out to the University of Oregon or somewhere like that and what have you, and I was sorry that I didn’t ever, ever a chance to take one of his courses and so on. So yeah.
Doney: So you’re taking all of these different history courses, but you settle on Mosse as your advisor.
Doney: Was there something about European history, a question that you wanted to answer. Or was there anything in particular that drew you to Mosse’s approach to European history?
Hilb: Well, I think what, what drew me to Mosse was partially the dynamism of his character, or the dynamism of his presentations. The subject matter. Being a child of German immigrants. I think I was naturally drawn to that because, you know, growing up my parents certainly acknowledged that, you know, they were born in Germany. They were very proud of Germany, but yet they didn’t discuss it very much in the home. They wanted us to be Americans first. They wanted to be Americans first. My mother continued to speak a little bit a German around the house.
My father avoided speaking German at all costs. He wanted to push himself away from Germany as much as possible and he wanted his children to be the same way. So when he passed away, there was not a lot of records, shall we say, of family history and so on and so forth. We had given him for one of his birthdays, when he was ill the last four or five years of his life, a book on family trees and so on. Because we felt like we really had to know as much as possible about our family and our roots and so on and so forth. And we found that book after my father had passed away and he had signed his name, put the name of the family on there, but he’d never filled anything out. I think he just didn’t want to do it. So that’s, that’s become somewhat of a passion of mine. I have a long way to go yet, but I’ve been working on that and hope to get that completed one of these days.
Doney: Was it different with your mother? Would she talk more about Germany, if she was using German in the home?
Hilb: She was told my father, I think, instructed her if I can use that term to not really talk about it that much because he wanted, as I said, he wanted his children, they wanted their children to be as American as possible. And while they did talk about it, they certainly talked about their family, some of their family members. They, they avoided talking about what went on as they were growing up.
My father was born in 1906. My mother was born in 1915. And certainly there was a lot in that area toward the end of World War I, through World War I, through the Weimar development in Germany and so on. That, that I just didn’t know that much about. So I think that is what drew me to the Mosse courses, more than just the factual elements of what went on, but certainly the, you know, the historical part of it, the reasons for why things developed, and different viewpoints developed, you know, why Hitler was this way and Mussolini was another way and in their view toward Fascism and National Socialism.
So that, that became up to me and I think that certainly drew me back in 1964 to just galvanizing toward, toward Mosse after I first met him.
Doney: So, let’s go into that, so which, do you recall which courses you took with Mosse? And then…
Hilb: Boy that’s a good one…
Doney: Well, 120.
Hilb: Well, History 120, which that was the introductory course, the European cultural history. So still, it, still is, B10 Commerce, the famous B10 Commerce. And I believe I took, I’m guessing at this point four or five other courses from Professor Mosse. Certainly the introductory course, the courses on Nazism, his courses on the Holocaust. There. I don’t recall taking the courses on sexuality and so on. That was sort of a time I know that it existed, but that was not a time back then that those topics were typically discussed openly. Now as it is today and even into the seventies and eighties and nineties, as I said up to today.
So I, I took pretty much, as I said, the four or five courses that covered European history from you know, age of [Klemens von] Metternich and moving forward to through World War I to World War II, I believe at that time most of his courses and into the close of World War II and so on.
Doney: Did that, did those courses help you contextualize your parents and your family?
Hilb: Oh, yeah. Yeah. I think it helped me better understand where my parents came from. The background that they came from. And certainly I tried to do as much reading as I possibly could just to find out more about what went on. You know, spurred by the courses that I took from Professor Mosse. But, but certainly times when I had the opportunity to sit down with them and say, well, what about this and then what about that particular subject? And, you know, he would certainly explain, explain his view points and so on. And, you know, not that he was a radical by any stretch of the imagination, I think probably liberal would be the best, best term to refer to him. And that at that time tended to be where where my thoughts gravitated to, you know, politically and economically, and socially. Yes, I was very, very, very interested in that.
Doney: Yeah, I, it’s always tricky talking about liberalism with Mosse because I think it’s the very sort of classical European sense. So the right of the individual to thrive, and social justice and things like that. But it’s not exactly the U.S. left, it’s a little, it’s a little more, I would say abstract.
Hilb: Right? Right. Yeah. And a lot of what Professor Mosse talked about was in the abstract, which certainly encouraged the students who were so inclined to dig deeper, and find out the meanings of different things. And I think that, that was one of the strengths of taking his courses and being able to sit down and chat with him and, and I know there were, I believe, two instances after I had graduated where he was on either a speaking tour or was a guest lecturer at the University of Cincinnati where I continue to live. And when he came into Cincinnati, I made sure that I attended those lectures and had the opportunity to sit down and chat with him for for a little bit of time under the tight schedules that he had. So I know, Michael Petrovich also I believe, came to Cincinnati one time for a lecture at the University of Cincinnati and, you know, sat down with him as well for a few minutes. But George Mosse was always, always at the pinnacle for me.
Doney: You mentioned that you had a story about when he first met. The first time you met him?
Hilb: Yeah. It was freshman year. Either late 64 or could have been in early 65. There was a speaker coming to the University of Wisconsin by the name of Henry Kissinger. Henry Kissinger is a distant cousin of our family, of myself, his his mother’s name was Paula Walter Kissinger. My grandmother’s name was Lena Walter. And I’m sure I still have it wrong, but I believe my grandmother and Henry Kissinger’s grandmother, not his mother, but Henry Kissinger’s grandmother was the mother of his mother. So therefore, I believe that made them first cousins or something like that. So after this lecture, I was excited to see Henry Kissinger, my parents, especially my father, because it was my father’s side of the family. Had opportunity to meet Henry Kissinger a couple of times while he was in government service. So here I was a brash young freshman at the University of Wisconsin. I went to the Henry Kissinger lecture, which I don’t recall where it was. It might have been in the Student Union at that time. I’m not real sure.
And after the lecture there was a little bit of a cocktail party refreshment party, if you will. And I went up to Henry Kissinger and introduced myself to him and said, Dr. Kissinger, I am I’m a relative of yours. My name is Jim Hilb. My grandmother’s maiden name was Walter. Your mother’s maiden name was Walter. And my grandmother and your grandmother, I believe were first cousins or those to that effect. Well, he looked at me like, “who in the world are you?” And I sensed that I flubbed the opportunity, which as it turned out, I did.
But certainly thereafter, George Mosse was at that lecture presentation. And he came over to me and said, Let me talk to you, young man. So I introduced myself, to him and the rest, as they say, is history.
Interestingly enough, about six months later, my aunt who lived in Cincinnati, received a letter from Henry Kissinger’s mother, saying that her son had been at the University of Wisconsin. And some young man came up to him who was very flustered and so on and said that we were related somehow. And I think he remembered my name, maybe he didn’t, but my aunt that the time engaged periodically and letter exchanges with Henry Kissinger’s mother who lived in New York. And they finally pieced it together that it was me. So that combined with meeting George Mosse at that particular presentation was was a watershed for me you might say.
Doney: Yeah, well, you did make an impression.
Hilb: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Doney: He remembered. He told his mom about it. Remembered, right?
Hilb: Right. Right, right. Yeah.
Doney: That’s great. So I want to talk just a little bit about your relationship with Mosse and how it developed through the course of your undergrad career. You were aware that he was an émigré?
Doney: Did he talk about being a German Jewish émigré?
Hilb: Yes, he he would he would mention it to me that he was a German Jewish émigré. Mentioned to me that his family history that they, his family owned a publishing house in Germany, in Berlin. And it always is, I believe was his grandfather who started it. Rudolf. Was it Rudolf Mosse (1843-1920) was his grandfather, I believe? And that his father was Hans Lachmann-Mosse. I believe Hans Lachmann-Mosse (1885-1944). which was George’s middle name: Lachmann. And he mentioned from time to time, the family, the family business and went into, you know, why they, you know, they left Germany and had to leave Germany. And some of the, his brothers and sisters, went to different parts of Europe and the United States and so on and so forth. So he would share with me to the degree that there was time, some of the background, information of of his family and his family history. And as I said, I believe his family owned the largest Jewish-owned publishing house in Germany until the Nazis forced it to close, I believe in 1933 or 1934. Although I believe the Nazis did let them exist for another couple of years after that, to a certain degree, but, but finally, shut them down.
And interestingly, when we were in Berlin, the first time, which was in 1991 of the first places I had to go was at the corner of Jerusalemer Straße and Schützenstraße which was the, the re, the reworked, if you will. Mosse gothic, neo-gothic building there at the corner which the building is still there and I believe is it the Mosse Foundation, I believe are some some some part of the Mosse heritage still has offices in that building. As well as walking down to Leipziger Straße where the Palais Royale was built, which was built, I believe by the Mosse family or, or elements of the Mosse family on Leipziger Straße 2, which is just a gorgeous, gorgeous building. So I have seen the Mosse heritage in Berlin on a couple of occasions. Yes.
Doney: Yeah, that’ll be one of the things we do in Berlin is to go look at the Mosse buildings.
Hilb: Oh, really?
Doney: Yeah, yeah. The Nazis, they allowed the firm to stay open. The, the main editor, Theodor Wolff, went into exile, was eventually killed [arrested] in France [died in Germany in 1943]. But they, they bastardized it, they started putting up pro-Nazi propaganda basically. And they were just trying to lean on the Tageblatt name to bolster themselves. But yes, yeah. Yeah. It was yeah, it was Rudolf Mosse exactly. Yeah. He sort of he started very small with just one newspaper and then had this idea to include advertisements in the newspaper and it just, it ballooned from there. And one of the, I think one of the interesting things about the family is that they then started all of these non-profit organizations and it’s a tradition that George himself continued to to believe in education. So Rudolf and his wife, Emilie had a bunch of homes for children who were orphans or whose parents couldn’t take care of them. And they were evaluated on things like fitness and energy it was very, very sort of German, German, very German. George’s, sister went to New York, Hilde, and started a clinic for, a psychology clinic for African Americans in Harlem where she didn’t charge. And then George gave his estate to UW, to start the Mosse Program so that people would have the same opportunity he had to experience the education in Jerusalem and in Madison. So it’s a, it’s a trend. Yes, through the family. It’s really interesting.
Hilb: It’s obviously a very cultured family, a very dedicated family. Very aware of their beginnings and their roots, if you will, and it’s proud to see, and I can honestly say that I’m, I’m very proud that I was able to have him as an advisor. And you don’t spend a lot of time with your advisors. I’m sure if I would’ve stayed in academia, that would have been a different story which I, which I didn’t do. But, you know, there’s, there’s certain people in your lives as your lives progress that stay with you all the time. And certainly George Mosse has stayed with me for a long time. And anyone who knows me well knows that I talk about him periodically, but he’s very, very important to me. Very important to me.
Doney: In his role as advisor, did you write a thesis with him or did he help you choose courses? What was that relationship like?
Hilb: He, he helped me choose courses. I don’t recall writing a thesis for him. We did meet periodically, I’m guessing, you know, once a month or something like that in his office which was in Bascom Hall, as I recall it the time, and filled with books and everything as many professors were. And if his door was open and he wasn’t tied up with another appointment with another student or what have you. We would come in and sit down and he would he would ask me, what about your family? Where did you what does your family come from? And to the degree that I knew what little I didn’t know about the origins of my family and the particular areas that they they came with, they came from. He was always very interested in knowing about it. I think not only for my sake to try to draw information out of me, but certainly for what he was doing with his classes and his other students at the same time.
And certainly one of the things that impressed me most about him was the succinctness of how he spoke. His presentation was very dramatic. And, and, and also it went beyond just historical facts. And when we were required to take an exam, obviously these were written exams. Much of that days there weren’t, at least in his courses, there were no multiple choice exams as I recall. And I would fill 4, 5, and 6 of the famous blue books for the exams. And it was it was, yes, the facts were important, but it certainly was, you know, what are the theories behind it and the cultural elements of it, the racist elements of it, you know, the social, the social elements of it, all the things that he has become known for and famous for. You knew that you had to do that and you had to think that way, it was a method of critical thinking. And certainly as, as, as I continue in my career with its ups and downs like many of us have had.
I think that a lot of the way I think came from examples of what I learned to think and how I learned to think back then. I think of things like the different philosophers that he talked about in History 120, you know, the the Immanuel Kants, and the Friedrich, Friedrich Nietzsches and, and Hegel with his thesis and antithesis and synthesis. I mean, I, I pretty much use that all the time in terms of what do you want to do? How are you going to get there? And setting objectives and goals and things like that. And that became very much part of me and things like Nietzsche’s element of incite the masses, which was certainly the theme of Adolf Hitler. But, but surprisingly to me at that time.
And the notebook that I’ve left with you there, there’s something in there about Charles de Gaulle and Charles de Gaulle. I remember him talking about in a lecture. Charles de Gaulle was a student of, or a disciple, shall I say, of Friedrich Nietzsche. Because Charles de Gaulle was able to lead people during World War I in France. But became leader of France because he rose above the masses in France. While it was still some type of democracy, he rose above the masses and he was able to incite the crowds if you will, to support him over his opponents and things like that have stuck out at me since the sixties.
Doney: Yeah, that’s, that’s great. Well, I want to talk then just a little bit about life outside the classroom on campus. Are there any individuals or friends, that stood out from your undergraduate years and…
Hilb: Oh boy, that’s a tough one.
Doney: What was your non-academic life like?
Hilb: Well my non-academic life was, I think, pretty full. I was a member of a social fraternity, which was Zeta Beta Tau. And Professor Mosse had come to our fraternity during my sophomore year and sat down with us, I believe had dinner with us. And our, in our eating area and talked to many of the members of the fraternity at that time. I was a very social person, no doubt about it. I was always interested in sports. I was involved in some intramurals early on when I was on our swimming team in high school and fast became known that as good as I thought I might have been in high school, I wasn’t good enough to do division one swimming, so I did intramural swimming for for my fraternity and so on and I was involved in the humorology, which I don’t know if it even exists again today. Certainly athletics was always important to me and went to all the football games, went to the basketball games in the old Camp Randall as opposed to remodeled Camp Randall, the old Field House, so on and so forth. I had a very, it was a wonderful time in my life.
It really was, the Vietnam War and all the dissensions that were going on notwithstanding. You’d try to put that put that aside, and try to enjoy yourself as much as you can because you’ll never get that back no matter what. And that that’s the case. So I think it was very good. It was a very good I’ve made some lifelong friends, certainly from my days here. And certainly like, like many, many people, sometimes you, it’s not that you become detached from the university because anybody who knows me knows that. You know, I bleed badger Red. Follow the sports very well. I was actually President of the UW Alumni Club in Cincinnati for about five or six years. And it’s, it was a great period of my life. Wish we could bring it back, but we can’t.
Doney: I’m sorry to keep going back and forth. But I want to, I wonder if in those conversations, if Mosse, talked about Vietnam or the different student protests. If you had any sense of his impression of what was going on in the campus life?
Hilb: I think he was aware of what was going on in the campus life. I don’t necessarily recall speaking directly with him about it. I sense that he was not for the Vietnam War. For many reasons. You know, talk it, talk about the colonialism of the French and early on in Vietnam being occupants, colonialism in, in Southeast Asia, which was certainly part of his History 120, the colonialization and the social, socialization, you know, whether it was the development of Bolshevism or colonialism that the British, British did. Their belief in colonialism, you know, mostly for trade to expand their economic reach around the world and so on and so forth. I would have to say, I hope accurately that I sensed he was not for the Vietnam War or certainly was in support of a different approach in dealing with North Vietnam versus the North Vietnamese communists versus the South Vietnamese armies and so on and so forth. Now, of course in the, in the time we were here and six, I guess 64 to 66, the escalation really began and by the time 1968 came around, I was, while concerned of where I was going to be the following year in 1969, I think most of us were very much concerned with were we going to have to serve in the military.
Student deferments were being revisited and revised by the Social, the Selective Service at that time. So I guess toward my senior year, especially the last six months, even though it was a time of political activism. I think one of us, many of us had our one foot out the door as to what was going to happen. You know, were are we going to get called into the army? Were are we going to have to go to Vietnam? Student deferments were, were pretty much eliminated and the lottery was on the horizon. Student deferments other than for those going into the medical profession and who were going on as teachers. Were, were all but eliminated altogether. So we had to, we had to scurry. We had we had to make plans.
I recall back in those days our graduation was in early June, it wasn’t it May like it is today. And pretty much on the same day that I graduated, I graduated from UW, I got an acceptance to law school, and I got my Selective Service notification that I was eligible for the draft. So that all happened within a day or two of each other. So, you know, made me not forget about UW, but it made me establish different priorities in my life very quickly at that point. So those would be some of the thoughts that they had at that time.
Doney: Well, then let’s talk then, so you went to law school?
Hilb: No I didn’t, I didn’t, I did not. I did not go to law school. Like many students who were concerned about the Vietnam War and I didn’t, I was not sure of whether I wanted to take a risk of having a low number in the lottery and therefore having a chance of getting drafted or taking a risk on getting a high number and not having to get drafted. And like many students at the time, I was off the family payroll at that point. So I had to scurry. So interestingly enough, I taught school for a year. I taught, I used my major in history to teach fifth grade social studies in the Cincinnati Public Schools for a year. And my fiancée at the time who I met here at UW, was in the teaching profession. She was in the School of Education here in Madison and she was a year, a year, year and a half behind me. And the days where there were no fax machines or emails or cell phones. I knew nothing about teaching other than I could recite a lot of facts about history. So she wrote my lesson plans for me and mailed them to me in the mail back to Cincinnati. So I taught fifth grade social studies in the Cincinnati Public Schools, in an inner city school.
And interestingly, I was hired on the spot by what we would call a human resource director today for Cincinnati Public Schools, whose son was a, I believe he was in a class behind me at my high school. And she didn’t want to see any young men have any opportunity to be called into the army, into the draft. So Cincinnati Public Schools at the time, needed male teachers as role models and she was hiring any male student who had a decent academic record to teach school. So I taught school in Cincinnati Public Schools for a year. And, and it was, it was interesting. It was fun.
At the same time. I knew I wanted to get a graduate degree, so I applied to the School of Business at the University of Cincinnati. And I at the same time I was teaching school. I began my quest for an MBA from the University of Cincinnati, which I, I succeeded in getting in a combination of night school, day school. So I got that.
And then from that point on, I, I went into business rather than law school.
Doney: Okay. Let’s talk about about that part of your, well, first you have any anything that stands out from teaching at that time in Cincinnati? From your classroom experience?
Hilb: Well well, it was it was interesting. It was as I said it was sixth grade, sixth grade students in an inner city school, many of whom had come from broken homes or where single parents and so on and so forth. And there was one other male teacher in the school and a male principal. And the, those two people helped guide me a lot, you know, being able to weather the storm, so to speak, on how to work with the students and get on-the-job training, so to speak, as as we went along. And I think it was, I think it was a very good experience for me. I mean, it’s not something that I regret. Initially, as I said, I did it for a reason to not have an opportunity to be drafted into the army at that time. But it was meaningful for me and, you know, I hope I made a difference in some of those kids’ lives during that one year that, that I taught that, I taught school. Subsequently to that, I was able to get into an army reserve unit based in Cincinnati and served my active duty for six months and served in the personnel and finance section of this particular army reserve unit. And at that point, there was absolutely no reason to believe that we would ever be asked to be sent overseas to Vietnam, and it turned out that way. So we handled the personnel and finance areas of our particular army reserve unit. So that’s, that’s, that’s what I did and a number of my friends ended up being in the unit, too. And so we had made the best of it as best as we could for the period of time that we were obligated.
Doney: Was that then a draft to put you in there or that was?
Hilb: No, that was a voluntary enlistment.
Doney: Oh, I see.
Hilb: Yeah. Yeah, the draft. I never did get drafted. My lottery number, which I was worried about was a very high number. So, you know, in retrospect, I don’t know exactly how high Selective Service was at that time to draft the men into the army.
But there was probably a very, very slim chance of my ever getting drafted, but I just wasn’t willing to take that chance. So teaching in the school helped me gather my thoughts for a year. And from that point, I said number of my friends and I enlisted in the, same army reserve unit and we made we made the best of it, you know, as we, as we could. And, you know, and went about our daily lives at that point. Yeah. So by then my wife had joined me in Cincinnati and we were married and all was well in the world.
Doney: So you when you finished the MBA, and you’re no longer teaching, what was what was your first position?
Hilb: I went into a family business, where my father was a partner with another gentleman in an accessory business in Cincinnati, and stayed in that business for a number of years and then moved on to another business after that and continued to be in that similar type of business today. Although specializing in sports marketing and dealing with a lot of the sports entities, I, I’d taken some graduate courses in licensing and intellectual property and so on. Couldn’t get the lawyer out of me completely, I guess. And did take some business law courses at the University of Cincinnati, but continue to be in business today.
Doney: What do you want to be involved in sport marketing?
Hilb: Just that I was a sports nut and just happened to float into some people asking me, can you do this and can you do that? And just got to be interested in it, in the company that I work with right now, we do a lot of work for various sports leagues and sports entities around the country and around the world in some cases, too, providing them opportunities for licensing and sponsorship in terms of promotional merchandise and also some strategic planning and so on and so forth. Yeah. Yeah.
Doney: That’s really interesting.
Doney: When you met Mosse in Cincinnati, you mentioned a couple times, were you in the MBA program or you’d already completed that?
Hilb: I believe the chronology. I had already completed my MBA, my MBA program on most of it had been at night because as I said I graduated in 1968. I started my MBA, I believe, in 1970 and completed my MBA in 1973-1974. So I believe it perhaps was in I’m, this is strictly guessing at this point, I think probably in mid to late 1970s and maybe early 80s. That George Mosse came to Cincinnati. Yeah.
Doney: Did you get a chance to talk to him about your teaching experience? And life choices?
Hilb: Yeah, we chatted about it and, you know, he was very supportive and he says, you know, life, life takes interesting turns sometimes and so on and so forth. And, you know, did not spend a lot of time with him, but certainly wanted to acknowledge that I made the effort to see him and then have the opportunity to speak with him for a little bit of time, which I did, which was very, very meaningful.
Doney: Yeah. These sort of last set of questions I have is very, are very speculative.
Doney: What do you think Mosse would make of current politics in the US and in Germany?
Hilb: Oh boy, that’s, that’s a loaded question.
Doney: What do you think his message would be if he was wrapping up 120 and sort of riffing on it?
Hilb: Riffing on, gee, 120, that is, I wish I had some time to think about this, thinking off, I think he would be certainly very disappointed in the political situation as it exists today around the world. I think he would be probably pleased that at least up until this point, that the Germans and the relationship with the EU and the situation with the EU, with the leaders of the EU, especially with Chancellor Merkel. I think he would be concerned of what, what would be happening and going into beyond, going into beyond the facts of why, why Brexit is occurring or may not occur. Who knows at this point? But, you know what’s going on in France, what’s going on in Italy, what’s going on in Germany? You know, what’s going on in Russia and vis-á-vis their relations with the other world. I think he would be looking at, and as he always did, you know, is it, is it cultural? What, what, what are the cultural implications of the leadership of these particular countries that are in power today. Or the leadership that is attempting to either usurp power, take power, or be elected to power depending on the type of governments that are, that are in existence. I think he would take a steady, steady approach to it as opposed to a, a radical. Maybe his ideas would be radical, but I don’t think he would take a radical approach for change. Just for the sake of change.
Hilb: You know, try to get, perhaps as many of the thinkers involved in it, get as many as the political leaders involved in it to get together around, whether it’s a round table or a square table or a rectangular table, whatever the choice would be.
From the psychological nature of it, which was always very important to him. I think, I think he would be very influential in trying to convince people that there are certain ways to take care of their individual countries. First, while, while still thinking in the macro idea of we all have to get together in the world. Because back then, as I alluded to earlier, communication was basically by telephone. You know, we and envelopes that would go from department to department or mail from department intra-university mail and so on. We didn’t have an, and early computers certainly were there. I don’t recall how fast or how slow they were in those days, but certainly I think with the advancements in technology, which is a big factor in many areas today, things get done a lot quicker. Sometimes with thought, sometimes with not a lot of thought. And I think in his orderly way of thinking and approaching those different areas, as I said earlier, as it applies socially, culturally, morally, politically, Did I leave anything out, I don’t know? But I think he would be he would be at the forefront. I really think he would. And I think he, in my opinion, I think he would be very, very proud of his heritage. I think he would be very proud if he was able to see Germany today, having been to Germany three times now myself. And the transparency with which the German Parliament, if you will, or the German ruling leaders approach the transparency of what happened from the rise of Adolf Hitler, you know, through World War II. And even today, there’s a transparency about it. If, if, anyone and I’m sure you’ve, you’ve experienced this, if you go to Germany and again, being Jewish, you see this and are maybe are a little bit more keen to it than other people. I think that the transparency that the German government has toward the Holocaust, and Germany doesn’t call it the Holocaust. They call it in memory of the Jews that were murdered. Those are the signs all over. There’s acknowledgments all over the country whenever they can, that this is where the Jews were murdered. These were the concentration camps. These were where they were taken from.
Track 17 in the Grunewald area of Germany, where the people who left for the various concentration camps, that was where they boarded the trains in the southwestern part of Berlin to go to the concentration camps. I think he would be very, you know, very aware of that. I think he’d be very proud of what Germany’s doing. There’s so many symbols in Germany today, and I guess I should say, forgive me for, for, you know, riffing into Germany so much. But having been there and my background, you know, things like two of the German parliament buildings that sit on either side of the Spree River. One is a convex structure, flat top, one is a concave structure, flat top, which you may be familiar with. And the theme of that is that someday Germany will truly be united when those two buildings come together and they would fit right together. Those, those are the type of symbols that are all over Germany. And no matter where I have had the opportunity to be in Germany, I’ve, I’ve seen the transparency of it. In 2014, I was asked to come to Germany by the leadership of my father’s hometown of Göppingen. In there is a project called the Stolperstein Project. I don’t know if you’re aware of that or not. I’d be happy to share that with you. But basically, it is a project of, of a, of an artist, German artist [Gunter Demnig] who was planting gold stones in the pavements in front of the last known residence of Jews and gypsies and homosexuals before they were shipped off to concentration camps. And it’s called the Stolperstein Project. And we were asked to go to my, my father’s hometown because they were honoring two distant cousins of mine who I was determined to be one of the closest surviving family members and they honored them in the town, town of Göppingen. And we were there for four days. And the government, we were recognized at City Hall and I was asked to speak a couple of times. There were students at all of these events. And there were a couple of instances where people would say, Oh Jim, look behind you, that is their German accent in the Gymnasium. That’s where your father graduated from school.
And we went to another location where the, where the or the stepping stones were placed. They said Jim, do you recognize that building behind you across the street and I said it really looks familiar. He said that was the Hilb house. That’s, that’s where your father’s family lived. And that picture is etched my mind because I have a picture at home of pictures that my parents brought with them that is exactly the same picture looking behind my shoulder to that house.
So that, I mean, many people don’t want to go back to Germany. And I can’t say that I blame them, but not having known as much about what my background was, I took it upon myself that I’ve got to find out whether again, whether it was in my father’s hometown or my mother’s hometown where the panzer battle was and so on and so forth and had the opportunity to sit down at that time with a friend of hers. My mother’s, that she grew up with, in that town who was still alive and in 1999 and we were at at her children’s home in this town of Heßdorf. And we had tea in the afternoon with them and they gave us newspaper after newspaper of what went on with the Jewish families in that town. I mean, it was a town of maybe 200 people, a very small town.
And those are the type of experiences that, you know, you cannot replicate one way or the other. Again, so much symbolism around all of Germany. I mean, whether it’s, you know, my parents home towns or some of the other areas who had been to and some of the towns we’ve been to. You know we felt obligated when we were in Munich. We wanted to go to a concentration camp. So we spent the day at Dachau.
And it was interesting because the symbolism behind it was our hotel was close to the city center and in Munich. So we went to the city center in Munich and we went down into the train station and we took a train to Dachau. Can you imagine, what my wife said to me?, Do you understand we’re taking a train to Dachau right now. And then when we got off the train station, there were buses that provided transportation for maybe the five-minute ride over to the camp. And it was just, those are the type of things that I feel very fortunate that I’ve been able to experience. Maybe not as many as other people and so on and so forth. But for me those have been, you know, very meaningful experiences and, you know, I’m, I’m proud of what Germany’s become today. Many people may not agree with that, but I mean, the recognition, of what’s been going on and having taken tours around Germany and you’re spending a lot of time in Berlin and outside of Berlin and so on and so forth. And recognizing what they’ve been doing.
And knowing little tidbits of, you know, many people think useless trivia like the only swastika that is legally allowed to be shown in Germany. From what we were told was the swastika on the, at the Olympic Stadium in Berlin. That was the big Olympic symbol. That is the only legal, that’s not swastika is not legal, but it’s the only one that has been allowed to remain by the government legally. Because of the enormity of, of the, the Olympic stadium and the symbolism of what happened in 1936 and so on and so forth. So, and you see these symbols all over Europe of, of what happened.
You know, the Olympic Stadium in Berlin is open on the west side. And the reason it’s open on the west side was Albert Speer was told by Hitler when he, when he designed architecturally the Olympic Stadium, he wanted the French in the far west to be able to see into Germany to see what the Germans have become. And the chariots on top of the Brandenburg Gate face east. So the backend of the horse’s face the French because that’s what Hitler saw and treated the French like and never liked the French. So little tidbits of information like that, I find humorous and interesting at the same time.
Doney: Yeah, absolutely.
I guess so, one of my final questions is, why do you think, do you have a sense of why Mosse’s work continues to resonate today. You talked just now a lot about symbolism and it sounded very like a very Mossean analysis of your own past.
Hilb: Yeah, yeah.
Doney: Thinking about symbols that in different ways they intersected with the Hilb House. Yeah. And what it represented to you in the States, and then encountering it in reality.
Hilb: Well, I think we, we go through life with symbols. Whether they’re trinkets that we all collect over the years and need to clean house and so on and so forth.
But the, the world is full of symbols, whether they’re physical symbols or mental, symbols, call them imagined, if you will. And I look at things with a lot of symbolism. And maybe you brought up a very good point. Maybe that’s one of the outgrowths of my being involved with George Mosse during the time I was here. I look for symbols in things. I look for meaningful things.
And hopefully try to reason things out, sometimes not so successful at it, but you know, and, and you’d like to think that that has to do with your heritage and your upbringing and a progression from when you were born through, through all your different levels of education, upbringing by your parents. And certainly the teachers that, that we’ve had. Our family is filled with teachers. And, you know, teachers. We don’t have a world without good teachers. Whether there George Mosse or any of the teachers and professors that all of us have experienced as we all have matured over the years. But so there is a lot of symbolism and like I said that, that’s a good point. Maybe it’s a result of, of Mosse because I look at things like that.
Hilb: I really do.
Doney: It’s interesting.
Doney: It’s a way of understanding the past, but also one’s own experiences, right? Cataloging right.
Hilb: The past is a building block.
Doney: Yeah, exactly. Do you have any final thoughts or anything else you want to add?
Hilb: The only thing I can really add is I’m, I’m appreciative of this opportunity. When I received the information about the conference, upcoming conference in Berlin, [mosseprogram.wisc.edu/berlin-2019], it was like, you know, my wife said to me that, that’s right up your alley. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity. So it’s, it’s important to me. You know, is it going to affect the way I live my life or continue to live my life. Yeah, maybe in a small way, shape, or form. But I like to think of myself as, as being open-minded. Although some people in my family, might disagree with that sometimes, but, you know, the blinders are not there and that it’s open.
And I feel very fortunate that I’ve had the experiences that I’ve had I’ve been I’ve been able to travel to Europe when I have, and certainly being at the University of Wisconsin was among the highlights of my life. You know, I wouldn’t have exchanged it for any other university in the world. There’s no question about it. And, you know, the names that I mentioned early on are all people that certainly I feel proud to have been exposed to. Proud to have experienced in some cases and learned of, and learned about. And hopefully that, that makes me ultimately a better person, you know, in the long run.
Doney: Am I missing something?
William Tishler: The only thing I can think of is given your interest in sports and your work and just maybe, you know and Mosse’s views on sports, maybe if he could, if he talked at all about sport.
Doney: Oh, rallies and the pageantry, sports. I remember Mosse saying something about American football as the modern gladiatorial matches.
Hilb: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Now that you say that he mentioned that even back in the 1960s, you know, I think American sports, especially at the top level, is very grandiose. It’s a spectacle.
Hilb: You know, and it incites the masses, shall we say? It really does. I mean, I’m sure many of us have had the opportunity whether we sit at a baseball game or a football game or certainly Wisconsin football game. Specifically. You know, there, there’s, you know, 60, 70, 80,000 people, sometimes a 100,000 people in these, in these stadia. And you know, it’s, it’s controlling the masses. If you have a winning football team, you are controlling the masses of you have a losing football team. You lose a little bit of control, but the masses may rebel a little bit, you know. So yes, it’s all, it’s all part of it and, you know, as as we think back on it, I don’t know if it’s a stretch to say it’s Nietzschean a little bit, if you will.
But yes, I mean, I don’t specifically recall talking about sports with George Mosse, but certainly you can make that connection. That sports is what the masses and it’s all about the masses. Whether you’re in a democracy such as we all are privileged to experience. Is it the masses of the Lenins and the Trotskys? And the Bolsheviks or thenCharles de Gaulles or the Vichys and the people of the world is it the, the masses that we see with some members of our current administration.
You know, it’s, it’s much the same thing to a certain degree, you know, inciting the crowd. And we all know in terms of the current political climate in the United States, there, there’s, there’s a lot of incitement going on, both sides of the fence, maybe more so on one than another. But you know it’s Mossean if you will, Nietzschean, if you will. All the, all the philosophers you could, you could put together. So, yeah, That’s appreciative of you bringing that up. Yeah.
Doney: He said something else about football, which was that they needed to change the color of the ball so it’s easier to track on the television. I remember that was one of his comments on American football.
Hilb: He would make a comment, I’m thinking maybe we talked about this, about the 1936 Olympics when, when Jesse Owens was from the United States was here and Adolf Hitler, of course, didn’t want Jesse Owens (1913-1980) to win anything. Due to the fact that he was an African American first and then an American second. But he wanted, and I don’t recall the name of the famous German sprinter at that time [Erich Borchmeyer], but, you know, Hitler had a showcase and you know, all the, all the German team was dressed in white, you know, the, the purity of the Aryan race, you know.
And you know, if, if you, if you have an opportunity to, to visualize what went on at the Olympic stadium there in Berlin, which again, I’ve, I’ve had the opportunity to be there and you stand high above the stadium on the one end and the Langemarck Memorial. And you see the different houses that, that are there on either side of the stadium that was for the teams to stay or the training facilities or what have you, you just, you know, it’s Albert Speer at his best, you know. Yeah. No question about it. So.
Doney: Actually there was one other question I skipped over, I’m sorry, which was did you, did you know that Mosse was gay when you were a student? Was that a surprise later in life to learn?
Hilb: It was not, it was not a surprise. It was suspect. And that is not to be taken, you know, positively or negatively. Many of us who are in his classes, the way he presented, presented his lectures, and the way he, he discussed things. There was always sort of an undercurrent of do you think George Mosse is gay?
And, you know, nobody knew the answer. I mean, again, the 60s were a different time and yes it was, you know, as we’ve talked about the war and everything. But homosexuality at that time was not really in the public eye in terms of being openly discussed, as I recall. And I, I and most of my friends, you know, we didn’t care, you know, we didn’t care one way or the other. You know, a person has a right to, you know, to be whatever they wanted to be and as long as they were experiencing a measure of tolerance it was perfectly fine. But when after George Mosse died and then it became apparent and it came out that he was gay.
It didn’t surprise me, it didn’t affect me one way or the other, nor my attitude toward him at all. If anything, it probably strengthened it because back, back in those days, it was not something that anybody as I said talked about openly and I think many people who were gay in those days probably, may have been embarrassed, I don’t know. But it was not something that was out in the open. Yeah. I mean, yeah. I know I was very tolerant that I know I’m tolerant, tolerant individuals, so it didn’t bother me one way or the other.
Doney: Fair. Is that it? Can you think of any, know final thoughts? Final, final, final thoughts.
Hilb: Other than thanking me for this opportunity.
Doney: It’s great. I really enjoyed hearing you story, especially your parents as émigrés and with your interest in history and history as, as a means of self-discovery, which I think is often underestimated.
Doney: It’s, it’s excavation in a sense. And anytime you’re digging into the past, it’s the questions and how we frame it are very often personal. Yeah. So I want to thank you for this.
Hilb: My pleasure. I’m, I’m very appreciative of this opportunity. And I guess it’s run full circle since 1968 now.