Panel of Holocaust presentations tells victims’ stories to next generation

Panel of Holocaust presentations tells victims’ stories to next generation

February 7, 2020

Eight presentations were given sharing the stories of victims of the Holocaust at the annual Holocaust Rememberance Panel at Brandeis Univeristy, held in the Liberman-Miller Lecture Hall on Feb. 6.

“As the Holocaust recedes into a previous century and fewer survivors are able to speak, dispassionate narratives are not enough. We must restore lives, we must give names and families and love to the millions who could not tell survivor stories because they did not survive,” said Laurel Leff, an associate professor of journalism at Northeastern University. 

The presenters of the panel, according to Leff, were all in their own disciplines trying to perserve the stories of the victims of the Holocaust, so that “no one will be lost to history,” said Leff. Leff said that the narrative of the Holocaust has been filled in over the years as overarching narratives have been recorded. As the accessibility of records from this period become more available, researchers are able to present the stories of the multitudes and the individuals. The speakers gave presentations about both individual and collective victims of the Holocaust. 

Karin Rosenthal, a resident scholar and fine art photographer at the Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) and the daughter of a Holocaust surivior, also spoke. Rosenthal’s father lost 17 members of his immediate family during the Holocaust, Rosenthal said, “their first deaths sadly cannot be reversed, but their second deaths can be undone.” Their second deaths can be reversed, according to Rosenthal, by learning what happened to them and telling their stories to restore her family’s lost history. Rosenthal’s search began in 2004 and over the years she was able to piece together the stories of the victims in her family. Using a photo from a family wedding, Rosenthal, with help from distant relatives, was able to learn the names of her relatives as well as their dates of birth to research them within memorial data available to the public. Of her father’s older siblings, his two brothers had survived while his three sisters were killed. After years of research, Rosenthal learned where her aunts had been killed, successfully completing their narratives to share with the next generation. 

While restoring her family’s history, Rosenthal met individuals that helped her complete her family narrative and connected with people with overlapping histories. Rosenthal said, “the darkness of Holocaust research can have silver linings more magical and meaningful than one could ever imagine.” 

Sarah Swartz gave her presentation on a small town in Poland called Vishogrod. Vishogrod, prior to the Nazi invasion and the second world war, had a population of 6,000, according to Swartz, and over half were Jews. Christians and Jews cohabiting Vishograd were peaceful though they remained separate. In Vishograd there was a Jewish cemetery, however, and when the Nazis invaded they destroyed the headstones, said Swartz: “not even the dead were granted peace.” A monument was erected in the cemetery to honor those buried there by an American Jew who was related to Vishograd, said Swartz.    

Debra Kaufman, a sociologist from Northeastern University, was unable to attend the event; Leff gave Kaufman’s presentation in her place. The presentation regarded the criticism of Holocaust scholarship and research. Critics commented that Holocaust scholars were “careerists, using the murdered European Jews to further their professional careers,” according to Kaufman’s speech. When these comments were made 20 years ago, Jewish and women’s studies were socially the least prestigious areas of every discipline, according to Kaufman, though Kaufman also argued about the importance of gender analysis of the Holocaust, as unlike other events in history, the female gender was not treated as “spoils.” The Holocaust was a rare historical event when women and children were specifically targeted, said Kaufman, and this was because women and children represented the next generation of Jews. Kaufman’s speech brought attention to the “unique testimonies of women survivors,”said Kaufman. If women’s experiences are forgotten, history will assume the plight of women is identical to their male counterparts, according to Kaufman. Kaufman quoted Joan Ringelheim, an author of works about women and the Holocaust, saying, “Woman carry the extra burdens of sexual victimization, pregnancy, childbirth, rape, abortion, the killing of newborns and the seperation from newborns.” 

In her quotation of Ringleheim, Kaufman said by recognizing the gender differences of the Holocaust, one can recognize the human experience of the Holocaust, giving a full account of what women went through. 

In her own presentation, Leff also gave the account of a female Jewish scholar Dr. Leonore Brecher. Brecher was a biologist and was 52 when the Nazi regime began to take power, according to Leff. She tried for years to get an American visa to work as a professor, however no institution would take her because of the combination of her gender, age and ethnicity. Although the United States claims to have saved many scholars, like Albert Einstein, said Leff, there were also many like Brecher who were denied visas. 

Lisa Fishbayn Joffe, Director of the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute, talked of statistics from the Pew Research Center which surveyed American adults asking them about their knowledge of the Holocaust. The Pew survey found that a majority of American adults did not know how many Jews were killed: 14 percent underestimated the amount killed, 12 percent overestimated and 29 percent did not know how many Jewish people had died. Joffe also noted that in the survey’s findings 57 percent of American adults did not know that Hilter had come to power through democratic processes. According to Joffe, these statistics show the lack of knowledge the public has about the Holocaust, which is why it is important for the university to sponsor events like the Holocaust Remembrance Panel. 

Rachel Munn, an affiliated scholar with WSRC, said that she and her colleagues have felt the need to share their work around the Holocaust to the community. Munn said that their research of Holocaust issues can be applied to the world today to support the social justice mission of the university. According to Leff, “The lessons [of the Holocaust] are monumental: the price of appeasement, the nature of evil, the absence of good.”

Contemporary connections can be made with the Holocaust, as in Kaufman’s presentation read by Leff, when she brought attention to a comment made by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a Democratic Congresswoman from New York. Ocasio-Cortez compared detention centers for migrants at the U.S. southern border to concentration camps during the Holocaust. Pointing to similarities across time alerts the public to dangerous developments that violate human rights, according to a letter made by an International Group of Scholars in response to a statement made by The Holocaust Memorial Museum which rejected analogies to the Holocaust. 

The event was hosted by the Members of the Holocaust Study Research group, Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center (WSRC) and co-sponsored by Hadassah-Brandeis Insistute (HBI).

Menu Title