By Cindy Mindell
Published: Thursday, October 16, 2008 11:48 AM EDT
BLOOMFIELD – Joe Olzacki can name an upside to the hate-mail he receives regularly. “If I weren’t doing something right,” he says, referring to the program he launched called “The Identity Project, “I wouldn’t be getting so much of it.” Olzacki says the emails accuse him of “promoting the mission of the Jews and N—–s,” and have been traced by the FBI to a source in the midwest.

The director of visual and performing arts for the Bloomfield public schools, Olzacki founded The Identity Project three years ago when “One of my kids” – that’s what he calls his students – “turned to me and said, ‘The Holocaust is when a bunch of people died.'”

Olzacki, who holds a degree in political science with a focus in Holocaust studies, says he’s always been “fascinated” that one group of people can completely strip another group of identity. “I asked, ‘What happens when someone strips you of everything that makes you you?'” he says. “The answer is genocide.”

Olzacki designed The Identity Project to make the idea personal for his students, most of them of Afro-Caribbean backgrounds. “They had to realize that they’re important,” he says, “that they could have changed or fixed something during the Holocaust, and that now they must stand up for others.”