National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education publishes Holocaust Education: Challenges for the Future featuring essays by prominent scholars, educators

 

Holocaust Education: Challenges for the Future, edited by Carol Rittner, R.S.M, contains the papers presented at the fall, 2012 Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference held at Seton Hill University. The conference commemorated the twenty-fifth anniversary of the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education at Seton Hill. In honor of that occasion, leading figures in the field of Holocaust Studies were invited to the conference, where they shared the insights they have attained through many years of scholarship and teaching. Now, thanks to this volume, their stellar presentations are available to a wider audience.

The papers in this volume engage three essential questions. The first question is: Today, after nearly seventy years of research on the Holocaust, what questions remain in need of further study? One area that is just beginning to receive attention is Nazi sexual violence against women. As Myra Goldenberg points out in her article “Jewish Women’s Experiences and Artistic Expressions of the Holocaust,” Jewish women were placed in “double jeopardy,” having been marked for death because they were Jewish and, as women, targeted for rape and other forms of sexual violence. Goldenberg’s pioneering research on this topic provides readers with a more complete understanding of the fate of the victims than has been previously available, as well as a clearer recognition of the horrors that many female survivors continue to carry with them.

Another emerging area of research reflected in this volume inquires into the relationship between the Holocaust and more recent acts of genocide. The ultimate goal of this scholarship is to develop a comprehensive explanation of genocide that does justice to the distinctiveness of each event and yet recognizes the common conditions that precipitated them. To date, no one has made more progress toward this goal than James Waller. In his article “Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing,” Waller incorporates research from several disciplines, including psychology, sociology and anthropology, as well as a range of atrocities, including the genocides in Cambodia and Rwanda, to articulate a compelling general theory of why people commit acts of mass murder.

A second key question -- and one that faces all Holocaust educators -- is, How will we teach about the Holocaust once the survivors are gone? Articles by Stephen D. Smith, executive director of the Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History and Education, and Joanne Weiner Rudof, archivist of the Fortunoff Video Archive for Holocaust Testimonies, offer readers many creative and encouraging solutions to this predicament. Smith discusses the wealth of resources available through the Shoah Foundation, including some 52,000 testimonies in its Visual History Archive. In addition, he describes two very promising initiatives: the IWitness program, which uses technology to enable students to independently study audiovisual testimonies, and New Dimensions in Testimony, an interactive program designed for teachers to use in their classrooms. In her article, Rudof explains how Yale University’s Fortunoff Video Archive can benefit both teachers and students. She also reflects on the usefulness of various kinds of resources on the Holocaust, including autobiographies, testimonies, interviews, documentaries, and works of fiction, in the classroom.

Finally, the pivotal question, Which lessons of the Holocaust are most important to teach about in order to prevent future genocides? is pondered by a number of contributors, including Yehuda Bauer in his article “Teaching about the Holocaust in the 21st Century,” and Rabbi Irving Greenberg in “’Never Again’: An Unfinished Agenda.” Both authors assert the absolute necessity of recognizing the dangers of religious and cultural bigotry and hatred, and of working toward interreligious understanding and tolerance. Articles by Father John Pawlikowski, O.S.M., and John K. Roth advance thoughtful suggestions about what must be done in order to build the common ground among religious groups that is so essential in order to prevent religiously motivated violence.

In addition, Bauer and Greenberg emphasize the vital importance of popular resistance in combating genocide. Greenberg cites Helen Fein’s conclusion that, when analyzing the differences in numbers of Nazi victims among the various nations of Europe, the “single and most critical” factor that emerges is the behavior of bystanders. In order to prevent future genocides, then, a clear understanding what motivated rescuers to act rather than remain passive bystanders of the Holocaust is needed. For this reason, Eva Fogelman’s article, “Rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust: Implications for Today,” which summarizes her groundbreaking research on the characteristics and motivations of those who rescued Jews from Nazi violence, is an extremely valuable addition to the volume.

Each article in the volume concludes with a series of questions for students as well as a list of sources for further research. The consistently high quality of the articles and their careful attention to pedagogical issues make this book an outstanding resource for teachers and scholars alike. Viewed as a whole, the book constitutes a series of timely and persuasive responses to the most critical questions regarding the Holocaust -- the “most extreme case” of genocide (to use Yehuda Bauer’s words) that the world has known.

Seton Hill University’s Dr. James Paharik is a professor of Sociology & coordinator of Human Services. He also directs the Genocide and Holocaust Studies Online Program, which consists of an undergraduate minor and graduate certificate.

 

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