VQ Home Write UsAdvertise

Vermont Quarterly Online Magazine




UVM In Brief

Sports Highlights

Alumni News & Service

Class Notes

Back Issues



In Pursuit of Terrible Truths
Close to Home-New volume gathers Vermonter's personal accounts of Holocaust

After two days of listening to rather dry presentations at a scholarly colloquium, filmmaker Claude Lanzmann had begun to despair about finding an authoritative, commanding voice for Shoah, his documentary of the Holocaust.
Then Raul Hilberg took the podium.

“He stood out against the others: by what he said; by his voice, metallic and warm; by the way he carried his body,” Lanzmann would later write. “His body itself spoke. Hilberg literally embodied and accepted the essential dare that the Holocaust makes to all who seek to bring it back to life.”

Hilberg, who retired from teaching at the university in 1991, built a near-legendary academic career by accepting that essential dare. He was a young UVM professor in 1961 when he published his landmark volume, The Destruction of the European Jews, a foundational piece of research that documented the Holocaust, brought it “back to life” with a rigor and authenticity never before approached.

The door was opened, and for the next three decades, Hilberg would continue to pursue his research and teaching at the University of Vermont with an authority and a passion that would make an indelible impression on his faculty colleagues, the world’s foremost Holocaust scholars, and some ten thousand UVM students fortunate enough to enroll in one of his classes.

And many of those students are still learning from the venerable professor. One evening last November, approximately two hundred New York area alumni ventured to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter headquarters in Manhattan’s Times Square for another hour in Professor Hilberg’s class. Today’s lecture: “The Holocaust: Who Knew What When.”

Alumnus Larry Roth ’67 shook his head when asked what brought him out that evening. “More than thirty years after sitting in Professor Hilberg’s class, I still quote him. ‘Know what you’re looking at. Study it. Never take anything at face value.’” Roth brought his son’s favorite high school teacher as a guest, reasoning that one great teacher should see another.

In many ways, the New York event was a gathering of generations stitched together by the common thread of Raul Hilberg and the legacy of Holocaust study that has continued since his retirement. Before the talk, alumni from classes that span the past five decades mingled
with current Arts and Sciences faculty — Wolfgang Mieder, Alan Wertheimer, Jonathan Huener, David Scrase — who have helped to keep Holocaust studies vital at UVM.

Jerry Jacobson ’62 and Evan Scheuer ’80 were among the alumni at the event with stories of the memorable challenge of Hilberg’s classes — the spellbinding lectures and rigorous tests that made a lasting impression. When an effort was mounted to honor Hilberg at his 1991 retirement, it was alumni memories such as these that inspired the support to create a Holocaust symposium at UVM celebrating the professor’s career and setting the groundwork for continuing his tradition.
The April 1991 event was built on a formula that is the essence of much of the work of today’s Center for Holocaust Studies — the teaching and research of UVM faculty inspired by Hilberg’s legacy, the fresh perspective of visiting scholars, the participation of the Vermont community beyond the campus, and loyal supporters who have often stepped up to provide the funding to make programming possible.

For three days, “The Hilberg Symposium” made UVM the epicenter of Holocaust studies for the entire world. Leading scholars such as Yehuda Bauer and Christopher Browning were joined by filmmaker Lanzmann and novelist Herman Wouk to pay tribute to Hilberg and speak to packed houses in Ira Allen Chapel.

“A number of us knew that we had to build on that event,” says Jacobson, who had kept in touch with Hilberg through the years. He also had reconnected with UVM’s Political Science Department when his daughter Lisa ’92 was a student. Conversations with one of her favorite professors, Alan Wertheimer, led to Jacobson’s taking a key role in the Hilberg Symposium.

Reconnecting with the university as a parent drove one-time UVM student Paul Konigsberg’s involvement with Holocaust Studies as well. Konigsberg started his college education at UVM in the 1950s but transferred to New York University two years before Hilberg came to campus. He was pleased when his son Stephen closed the circle and chose UVM in the 1980s. Hilberg became one of Stephen Konigsberg’s most influential professor’s at UVM. That fact, coupled with Paul Konigsberg’s longstanding support of Jewish issues and affairs, impelled him to get involved and play a key role in fundraising for the Hilberg event.

“It’s essential that people understand this tragedy, and not only from a Jewish standpoint,” says Konigsberg. “Vermont’s taken an important role in this, and it’s been very satisfying to see the Holocaust Center at UVM nurtured from nothing to a program that is vibrant and healthy.”
That program has evolved into a mix of classes across disciplines, public lectures and symposia, community events such as a gathering for survivor families, publications, summer classes for Vermont teachers who plan to teach the Holocaust, and an option for an undergraduate minor.
Wolfgang Mieder, professor of German and a member of the Holocaust Studies Advisory Board, says he sees balance as one of the great strengths of UVM’s center. “An academic program like ours should have scholarship as its foundation in events and publications. We do that well,” Mieder says, “but we also explore the emotional and personal through narratives and events like survivors gatherings.”

David Scrase, director of Holocaust Studies and professor of German, says “It is especially important for individuals far removed from dire situations from which we might learn to be exposed to such matters.”

He mentions that the Jewish population of Vermont, roughly 1 percent, corresponds to the Jewish population of Germany in 1933. “Vast tracts of Germany knew nothing of the German Jews firsthand, just as the citizens of the more rural parts of Vermont may know little of Jewish life in Burlington.”

A recent major gift from alumnus Leonard Miller ’51 and his wife, Carolyn, has strengthened the foundation for future Holocaust Studies work at a time when keeping the lessons of this era fresh grows more challenging by the day.

“As the Holocaust becomes history and not the experiences of grandfathers and grandmothers, we will attempt to keep alive the facts and the experiences which make up one of the greatest evils perpetrated by humans on other humans,” Scrase says. “We must also link this event to other acts of ‘ethnic cleansing’ as they continue to appear — even in the same Europe that saw the Holocaust. Sometimes, we humans do not learn very much very well.”

Keeping the lessons vital, honoring the memory of those whose lives were lost, giving thanks for the lives that were spared, and assuring that it never happens again, are ultimately what drive those who pursue and support Holocaust studies at UVM and elsewhere.

It is a devotion that comes from both mind and heart. Ask Leonard Miller what motivates him to support Holocaust Studies and he’ll fix you with a gaze and tell you about his parents, Russian-born Jews who left their homeland in 1915, settled in Boston, then Burlington.
“If they hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here,” Miller says. “That’s my motivation.” VQ

Close to Home
New volume gathers Vermonter's personal accounts of Holocaust

The Holocaust: Personal Accounts, edited by David Scrase and Wolfgang Mieder, was published in May by UVM’s Center for Holocaust Studies. The volume brings together twenty first-person narratives from individuals who experienced the Holocaust. Survivors to liberators, the writers all either live in Vermont or have been associated with The Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM. The following are excerpted from the publication.

away from home: reflections of a child survivor
Yehudi Lindeman
Born in Holland in March 1938, during the week of the German invasion and occupation of Austria know as the Anschluss, Yehudi Lindeman was four years old when he went into hiding.
“It was the beginning of an itinerant existence that would take me to at least fifteen different locations, none of them stable or permanent. I stayed at several other farms, both poor and prosperous, at a dentist’s house, a flower shop, a butter factory, the list goes on and on, and I don’t even remember all of them. The only sense of stability I felt was when yet another stranger, some young man or woman, (a courier working for the resistance, no doubt), would take me once again to a new place of hiding, usually on the back of a bicycle. I recall feeling very safe during those many nocturnal rides, sitting close to the person in front of me, the sound of the bicycle’s tires steady and reassuring in the night. I think they gave me the only sense of faith that I ever had during those years.”

growing up fast in breslau
Frank Schaal
Frank Schaal was a twelve-year-old school boy in Breslau, Germany when Hitler came to power.
“Whereas before we had religious instruction, each according to his own religion, this was canceled. Instead we had an added zoology lesson called “Rassenkunde” (racial instruction). The students were to be instructed about the Aryan race, the race Hitler had designated superior and to which he said Germans belonged. Non-Aryans were all others, in particular, of course, the Jews. Since there were only two Jews in the class and the other boy had light brown hair, I was the one pulled out of his seat and hustled before the class. The teacher, with his black uniform and his staring, protruding eyes, began to analyze my facial anatomy in order to explain how to recognize a Jew. Dark brown or black hair, long protruding nose, broad cheekbones, dark brown or black eyes, and so on. Pretty soon I had to make my way home by myself.” Right: Frank Schaal, age 15, last year of high school, 1936.

we went on
Gina Gotfryd
Gotfryd describes arriving at Auschwitz.
“We were soon moved to another large room where other male prisoners shaved our hair — heads, underarms, and pubic hair. We were then pushed into a huge shower room. After the showers, where no soap or towels were given, some kind of raggedy dresses were thrown at us. There was no underwear, but some old shoes or clogs. The dresses were of the strangest shapes or forms. Tall women got very short dresses, short women had dresses down to their ankles, and even though we knew that we had entered the gates of hell, we looked at each other and laughed.” Top right: Gina Gotfryd with her parents, one of the few intact nuclear families to survive the Holocaust

staying together
Aranka Siegal
Siegal describes her final day at Bergen-Belsen.
“Iboya (her sister) and I, through some unexplainable miracle, and several close calls, lived long enough, if barely, to greet the British army, our liberators, on 15 April 1945. I had developed a case of dysentery, from which so many had already died and continued to die even after liberation. But Iboya dragged me out of the barrack, ran after a medic, and cried, ‘My sister is dying. You must help her.’ She held on to his arm and wouldn’t let go until he had me put on a stretcher and marked my forehead with a red cross, an indication for the ambulance that I could be saved by immediate attention.
As soon as he turned his back, Iboya used some spit to dampen the cross. She pressed her forehead against mine, copying the cross onto her own forehead, and lay down beside me. The last thing I heard before I lost consciousness, after having lost my family, my home, and my childhood through a torturous year of Hitler’s insane depravity, were Iboya’s words — ‘They can’t separate us now!’” Aranka Siegal’s passport photo, age eighteen, a survivor

Search UVM A to Z UVM Home UVM Home