Pursuit of Terrible Truths
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.
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 worlds 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 Manhattans Times Square for another hour in Professor Hilbergs class. Todays 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 Hilbergs class, I still quote him. Know what youre looking at. Study it. Never take anything at face value. Roth brought his sons favorite high school teacher as a guest, reasoning that one great teacher should see another.
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 UVMs Political Science Department when his daughter Lisa 92 was a student. Conversations with one of her favorite professors, Alan Wertheimer, led to Jacobsons taking a key role in the Hilberg Symposium.
Reconnecting with the university as a parent drove one-time UVM student Paul Konigsbergs 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 Konigsbergs most influential professors at UVM. That fact, coupled with Paul Konigsbergs longstanding support of Jewish issues and affairs, impelled him to get involved and play a key role in fundraising for the Hilberg event.
essential that people understand this tragedy, and not only from a Jewish
standpoint, says Konigsberg. Vermonts taken an important
role in this, and its been very satisfying to see the Holocaust
Center at UVM nurtured from nothing to a program that is vibrant and healthy.
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.
is a devotion that comes from both mind and heart. Ask Leonard Miller
what motivates him to support Holocaust Studies and hell 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.
The Holocaust: Personal Accounts, edited by David Scrase and Wolfgang Mieder, was published in May by UVMs 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.
from home: reflections of a child survivor