Tim Crain’s career as a historian of Judaism began in a Roman Catholic grade school. It was there that Mr. Crain, who was raised in an Irish Catholic family, first learned about the Holocaust—and was perplexed. "To me, it really didn’t make any sense that something like this could happen," he says. "It made zero sense at all."
That experience, which began a career spent studying the intersection of Jewish and Christian history, is a fitting prelude to his being named director of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill University, in Pennsylvania. Mr. Crain, 49, assumed his post last month. He had conducted an outreach program in Milwaukee’s Jewish community for 15 years, while working as an adjunct at Marquette University and the Universities of Wisconsin at Madison and at Milwaukee.
Mr. Crain earned a Ph.D. at Arizona State University in 1998 with specializations in modern Jewish, modern European, and modern Middle Eastern history. Before entering the field professionally, he says, he was nervous about whether he would be accepted "as a Jewish historian who’s not Jewish." He found that he was welcomed.
In fact, he says, his advocacy for greater awareness of the issues that manifested themselves in the Holocaust is sometimes bolstered by the fact that he is not Jewish.
But Mr. Crain’s purview at the center will not be limited to the study of one moment in history. "Most Holocaust centers are focused overwhelmingly on the event itself," he says. The Seton Hill center’s mission is broader, "stressing the dangers of intolerance of any people."
In that spirit, he says, he would like to expand the center’s focus from Judaism and Christianity to embrace the study of intolerance toward Islam. "Islam fits in to a T with its two sister faiths," Mr. Crain says. "In time, I would like to see less demonization of that going on."
The Jewish and Christian faiths, he says, have grown closer since World War II, a period on which he is doing research for a book about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s relationship with Jews and his response to their situation under the Nazis. Mr. Crain says he has found that Roosevelt "did not understand in any way, shape, or form" how large the Holocaust was.
Even so, Mr. Crain believes, any direct action aimed at stopping the killing of Jews in Europe would have had only a limited effect, given the wider war effort.
While he will miss his work in Milwaukee, Mr. Crain says, there is one aspect of the move he relishes: leaving adjunct life behind. Having been an adjunct for so long while helping to support three children, he says, he will not miss the vulnerability. He is now an assistant professor, teaching classes in Seton Hill’s program in genocide and Holocaust studies.