Teachers continue to impart lessons on the Holocaust to new generations of students, each generation farther removed from the events of World War II. With many survivors dying each year, and those remaining elderly and often unable to tell their stories, access to eyewitness testimony is diminishing, removing a source of emotional connection.
Educators often have insufficient time to present the material in as much depth as they would like, and, on top of that, they must balance the need to teach the particulars of the Holocaust with lessons geared toward prejudice prevention.
Scholars, meanwhile, grapple with different issues. Because Holocaust and genocide studies now go hand in hand and often fall under the aegis of the same department, scholars have to ask whether comparisons can be drawn between different genocidal assaults. Those looking at real-world applications focus on getting to the root cause of hatred in an effort to find the key to prevention of the next genocide. It’s not easy, but they do have an advantage over previous generations: access to previously sealed documents that shed light on the roles of those who laid the groundwork for the perpetration of atrocities.
Participants in the New Jersey Holocaust and Genocide Research Symposium, held April 12 at the College of Saint Elizabeth (CSE) in Morristown, touched on all these issues. The event was in three parts: a panel of directors of university Holocaust and genocide education centers discussing the future of such education; a second panel featuring scholars discussing new approaches to the study of genocide and human rights; and, finally, a keynote lecture by Nancy Sinkoff of Rutgers University on Lucy Dawidowicz and the beginning of Holocaust studies in the United States.
This inaugural seminar was meant to be the culmination of the first year of a working group of Holocaust and genocide scholars in New Jersey. Some 15 individuals from 10 different institutions participated this year. The group was developed by CSE with funding from the American Academy for Jewish Research, with the goal of enabling faculty to talk about issues, research, and questions related to the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. The symposium was an opportunity for participants to share their work and research beyond the group and to open up to the public the discussions they’ve been having throughout the year. Participating scholars are affiliated with CSE, Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Montclair State University, Kean University, Seton Hall University, Stockton University, Brookdale Community College, and Rowan University; one participant is from Gratz College in Pennsylvania and another is a historian with the Conference on Material Claims against Germany (the Claims Conference).
In a conversation with NJJN, Dr. Adara Goldberg, director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Kean, who sat on the first panel, called her involvement in the working group “invaluable.”
“As Holocaust scholars, we often research and write in isolation,” she said. “The sessions and culminating symposium provided opportunities to share our work, receive critical feedback, and connect with colleagues.”
Dina Cohen, a member of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, was in the audience. She said she went to school “before there was Holocaust education,” and hearing the discussion about Lucy Dawidowicz and her book “The War Against the Jews: 1933-1945” brought back memories of the enormous impact of “reading that book in the ’70s.”
Gideon Frydman, who volunteers at the Museum of Human Rights, Freedom and Tolerance in Millburn, also in the audience, expressed an interest in the discussions around conflict resolution. He particularly appreciated the insights that come from looking at different genocides and setting aside the conflict of who suffered more. Much of his own family was killed in Poland during the Holocaust. “I see the similarities between conflicts and genocide around the world,” Frydman said. “It’s not just, ‘We suffered a lot, you know, and what happened to you people…is nothing compared to what happened to us.’” Rather, he said, “I see all the similarities, and I see bits and pieces of it in our culture here and around the world.”