The responses of Jews, Jewish institutions, and others subjected to Nazi policies have implications for our understanding of how individuals and groups respond to persecution. Finally, the ways in which the Holocaust is remembered and memorialized in different national and cultural contexts serves as a useful case study of how collective memories of important historical events emerge and evolve over time.
A minor in Holocaust studies can be pursued in conjunction with any major. The study of the Holocaust offers more than an opportunity to acquire knowledge about a singular historical event. It provides students with an opportunity to examine a range of broader issues, such as antisemitism, racism, xenophobia, militarism, homophobia, and the formation and functioning of stereotypes. It provides important insight into behaviors such as obedience to authority, conformity, altruism, and civil courage. A consideration of the bureaucratic methods employed by the Nazi regime to systematically identify, isolate, and eliminate large populations addresses questions about the potential for the abuse of power by governments.
Study Abroad Experience Leads to Deep Perspectives on the Holocaust
Alex Sherbrook ’17 was disappointed about missing her spring commencement at UVM, but she still wouldn’t trade it for her final semester of college in Augsburg, Germany. In German universities, the semester begins in April and ends in late summer, so she had to wait until September to finally collect her UVM diploma.
“My classes were all in German and there wasn’t as a big of an emphasis on homework as there is in our system, so It was a really big adjustment. But I’m really glad I did it.”
A psychology major with a Holocaust studies minor, Sherbrook traveled to Germany in high school as part of a class on the Holocaust—the experience sparked her choice of minor at UVM.
“I knew there was a great department in Holocaust studies here, with notable faculty organizing lectures and programs that bring scholars from all over the world to UVM,” she said. During her senior year Sherbrook worked as an administrative assistant at The Carolyn and Leonard Miller Center for Holocaust Studies, helping to promote many of these programs sponsored by the Center.
She began enrolling in German classes as a sophomore, and credits senior lecturer Theresia Hoeck with giving her fundamental language skills she sharpened at the University of Augsburg. While in Germany she also took some time to explore, stopping in Ireland, Bavaria, Austria and Poland. She revisited Auschwitz and other Holocaust sites that she’d first seen as a 16-year-old. “Going back to these places with a more in-depth knowledge about the roots of the Holocaust really sharpened my sense of how prejudices can lead to violence,” she said.
Sherbrook’s interest in the Holocaust also influenced her studies in psychology, and she is applying to graduate school to earn a master’s degree in public health. “I was fascinated by social psychology and how individual behavior can be influenced by groups. In studying the Holocaust, we see how people get pressured into things they wouldn’t normally do.”
Launching an Academic Career in Holocaust Studies
Mark Alexander transferred to UVM with the intent of finishing his B.S. in education and finding a teaching job in Vermont. But after changing his major to history, his academic and career path took a fascinating detour.
Especially influential were classes with professor Jonathan Huener, who teaches in the history department and the Miller Center for Holocaust Studies. “I took several of his classes on the Holocaust and the history of Poland, and he was my academic adviser when I continued at UVM for my M.A. Dr. Huener’s insights into the issues we studied in his classes have helped to shape my understandings of the field, and he provided a consistent example of thoughtful academic professionalism that I will probably always hold up as a model for myself.”
After completing his M.A. at UVM, Alexander finished coursework for his Ph.D. at George Washington University and successfully defended his dissertation prospectus. His research focuses on the CIA’s Cold War efforts to undermine the Soviet Union through the use of Belarusian Nazi collaborators, an interest he developed at UVM. At GWU he has access to a wealth of primary resources in Washington, including the National Security Archive.
Alexander recently completed a year serving as a research assistant for the Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project at GWU. While annotating documents and correspondence for publication of Volume III of Roosevelt’s papers (spanning the early 1950s), he engaged his interests in Roosevelt’s positions on the United Nations, McCarthyism, race relations, and the young Israeli state.
He’s also working as a contracted research assistant at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. “I’m working on a series of primary source educational supplements based on documents from the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS),” Alexander says. He explains that the ITS was originally founded during the Second World War to trace missing and displaced persons. The database now contains millions of documents, and in recent years it has become available for public research. The educational supplements he helps produce are intended to expose students in undergraduate college history classes to newly available documents that will provide more dimension to research and perspectives on the Holocaust.
At the end of the spring 2017 semester, Alexander attended the Warren Fellowship in Houston—he’ll be returning as a permanent guest faculty member of the Holocaust Museum Houston’s teacher training seminars three times a year. He’s still deeply interested in education, though perhaps not as a high school teacher. “I had originally intended to go into public education, but I began to think about a career in academia as I attended graduate level courses in history at UVM. I’ve been pursuing this path as a PhD student, but I have also become very interested in the possibilities of educational outreach that can be done by historians working in museums.”
David Scrase Student Research Grants
These grants honor the contributions of David Scrase, professor emeritus of German, during his long service as the founding director of the Center for Holocaust Studies at UVM. Grants are available to UVM students -- both graduate and undergraduate--who are pursuing serious research projects related to the mission of the Center for Holocaust Studies. Priority will be given to students working on major research projects, such as an MA thesis, an undergraduate senior thesis, or a research-intensive independent study. Read more information on this opportunity on our graduate study page.