Perry Brickman, a distinguished, retired dentist and oral surgeon, has spent more than a decade writing and researching his book, “Extracted,” about how anti-Semitism flourished at the Emory School of Dentistry in the 1950s.
He was one of a number of Jewish students who were flunked out of the school by a deliberate anti-Semitic policy that was instituted and carried out by the dean of the dental school at the time. His research eventually led Emory seven years ago to acknowledge its past mistakes. His talk about his book at this year’s Book Festival of the MJCCA is sponsored by the Atlanta Jewish Times.
AJT: How long did it take you to realize that you might have been the victim of anti-Semitism?
Brickman: In 1952, at the time that I was dismissed as a student at the Emory Dental School, I never thought it was because of anti-Semitism. All of us who were flunked out didn’t dare think that way. Nobody would believe us anyway. So we all went our separate ways and we did not talk to each other at all because we were embarrassed, humiliated and so on. Nobody said a word. But in 2006 I saw this chart that Eric Goldstein did. He was was an Emory professor. It showed that 65 percent of Jewish boys in the dental school had failed completely or repeated one or more years in the 1950s.
I guess I dared to assume that I was part of that statistic. I had to allow myself to think about that. And if it were really true, then nobody had ever done anything about it.
AJT: It almost sounds like one of those cold cases the police solve on television. How difficult was it to find out what happened?
Brickman: It was a scavenger hunt. For instance, if I went to the Emory library, I just took pictures of all the material I found about the dental school in the 1940s and 1950s. I wasn’t selective. It was the smartest thing I could have done. Some of what I turned up at first that seemed minor turned out to be important later. It became part part of a bigger picture I developed over years of research. Then, other parts of the puzzle started coming together. I felt like that television detective, Columbo.
AJT: Starting with just a few clues, you were finally able to provide an abundance of evidence that forced Emory to apologize in 2012 to you and all of the school’s dental students. Eventually they honored you as a distinguished alumnus. It is a pretty amazing story. Why do you think you were so successful?
Brickman: I am a believer and so I think that G-d has his hand on everything. I think G-d points the way. I think G-d provides a lot of love. He provides great opportunities for us all to do things He wants us to do. Thank you, G-d, for giving me those clues.