Friday, May 2, 2014

Holocaust Remembrance

Greetings, friends and fellow travelers!

Yes, we are getting close to our departure time.  Meanwhile, on the home campus, Study Abroad and the History/Political Science Dept. sponsored a related event, a Holocaust Remembrance.  During the trip, we will be visiting the Auschwitz camp, an important part of understanding this region and its long history.

The Remembrance event featured a history overview by David Karr, a video of a Holocaust survivor, and a talk by Rabbi Feintuch of Congregation Beth Shalom here in Columbia.  Two survivors were planning to come speak, but could not make the trip.  We wish them good health.

David Karr, a CC history professor, stressed that it is important for us to learn the history of both the Holocaust and Anti-Semitism, as soon the witnesses to these events will be "passing from the realm of living memory." Although the Holocaust "can't really be talked about," the "unspeakable," yet we "absolutely need to remember."

David began with a history of the Jewish people in Europe in the 1300s, when the plague arrived in Europe via the trade routes from the far east.  In those days before germ theory, "Christians sought scapegoats," and often the blame fell to the Jews.  One effect of this was a great migration of Jewish people to the more welcoming kingdom of Poland.  There, a successful and prosperous Jewish community established itself and lasted for 600 years.

In the 1800s, several strands of ideology began to join--biologically based racism, new, exclusionary forms of nationalism (e.g., Germans began to think of themselves as Aryan, and a genetically distinct people), and various conspiracy theories about both wealthy financiers and "disruptive" labor movements.  In all these, the Jewish people were labeled as causes of problems, impurity, etc.  This rather clearly sets the stage for the growing anti-Semitism of the 20th century, which David labeled a "toxic, fit-anything, ideology."  And in this framework, the Nazis came to power.

David stressed how the Nazi approach to the "Jewish problem" was "improvised"--that is, it developed in stages, from the early camps in 1938, shifted with the invasions of Poland and then Russia, and congealed into a government-planned "final solution" in 1942.  In that year, 1942-3, the majority of the  Holocaust victims were murdered.  [David read several powerful passages from C. Browning's Ordinary Men.] [Here a review of Ordinary Men from the New York Times.]

For more, or more complete information, you can reach David Karr at

Next at the Remembrance, we watched a video interview of a survivor of the Nazi roundup of Jews in Hungary.  The video is archived at the USC Shoah Foundation .  The survivor described in detail how her family and community were taken captive, thrown, literally, on the cattle cars and transported to the camp in Poland, where they were quickly separated, a few to the barracks, but most to immediate death.  The video is unsettling, her unflinching account of the process.  Try to see some of these interviews for yourself.  [Tonia Compton, at , could supply you with the exact information about this video, and answer more questions about this Foundation.]

Finally, Rabbi Feintuch helped us think about how to approach both these memories and the site.  He stressed the need to not be distracted by those who would lessen the enormity of this crime, that even if we "will never understand what happened there," yet "we must believe it" and come to know that "each of us is the other man's brother."

Later, bob
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