From the 13th to the 17th of January, 2003, I was privileged
to attend the Winter Seminar at the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, DC, for
Professors Teaching Holocaust-Related Courses in the areas
of "Theology, Ethics, and Religion." Sixteen of
us were selected from throughout the United States from both
public and private institutions, private and public, to participate
in this five-day learning experience, hosted by the Museum's
for Advanced Holocaust Studies.
Our Seminar Leaders were Professor
John T. Pawlikowski of the Catholic Theological Union,
Chicago, IL, and Professor
Stephen Haynes of Rhodes College, Memphis, TN, both of
whom have written extensively on the Holocaust from the academic
perspectives of religious and theological studies.
On the first day, our primary topic was "The History
of Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism," led by Dr. Pawlikowski,
in which we examined and debated the historically-evolved
and evolving foundational ideas, again, both religious and
secular, as well as the role of the New Testament text, which
could be classed in both categories, and how these ideas provided
a baseline upon which Hitler and the Nazis and their allies
were able to draw in their attempt to annihilate the Jews
of Europe. Discussion then centered about the present-day
reality of these ideas and what, if anything could be done
to combat their persistence.
We were, also, introduced rather thoroughly to the resources
of the Museum which could aid us in our work as scholars,
specifically, the library as well as the document and photo
archive collections. We, also, learned of the work of the
Committee on Church Relations, as well as the role of the
Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies.
On the second day, our morning session was devoted to an
historical discussion "Churches and the Holocaust (both
Catholic and Protestant) 1933-1945," as well as a lengthy
discussion of the complicated and complex role of Pope Pius
XII during this period.
In the afternoon, we participated in a discussion entitled
"Pedagogical Issues Related to Student Religious Sensitivities,"
which was all the more fascinating because our respective
academic disciplines included religious and Judaic studies,
criminal justice, history, political science, philosophy,
theology, sociology, and law. In addition, some of us have
been teaching courses in the Holocaust for many years, whereas
others were preparing to teach their first courses in this
difficult material. Thus, resources from our various disciplines
and experiences gained in the classroom were shared throughout
the week; recommended books, articles, video materials, etc.
were continuously announced.
On the third day, our discussion redirected itself to "The
Holocaust and Contemporary General Ethics," and addressed
the question of the kinds of ethical dilemmas which the Holocaust
presents and how these could best be addressed within the
classroom context. The topics covered not only issues of life
and death in a general sense, but questions of euthanasia
and eugenics, war and peace, personal and collective behavior,
and the like.
Because each of us was asked to supply one or more of our
syllabi related to our teaching, our afternoon session was
a "Discussion of Course Syllabi," and the cross-discipline
fertilization as a genuine plus, as each of us felt we could
draw upon these materials because the study of the Holocaust
itself is, by definition, cross-disciplinary and inter-disciplinary.
Our next day began with "Debates (!) on the Actions
of Religious Figures During the Holocaust," focusing
primarily on the German Lutheran clergyperson Dietrich Bonhoeffer,
who participated with others in the plot to assassinate Hitler
towards the end of the war and paid the ultimate price. In
this context, some of his writings were examined as well as
the continuing controversy about whether or not to accord
him status as a "Righteous Gentile" by Yad Vashem
Later that same day, we were addressed by Belgian Holocaust
survivor Flora Singer whose life in hiding was the result
of the clandestine work of Roman Catholic Father Bruno Reynders.
Her story was truly unusual as was her informing us of her
relationship with Anne Frank. In the evening, we attended
the lecture of Professor Steven Zipperstein of Stanford University,
CA, who is a Senior Scholar in Residence at the Museum, entitled
"Historical Reflections on Contemporary Antisemitism."
In light of our work during the week, his presentation was
a fitting conclusion to a strenuous and intense intellectual
On Friday, our final morning session was devoted to an "Open
Discussion on Seminar Issues," and was at attempt to
address any topics that we, as a group, felt did not receive
a full hearing during the week. Significantly, we returned
to our original discussion of those foundational ideas which
led to the Holocaust, textual, political, social, etc.
Throughout the week of the Seminar, we were, also, addressed
by various members of the staff of the Museum, not only the
Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, but scholars, both
doctoral and professorial, doing research at the Museum. Coming
from all over the world (e.g. Israel, Italy, the Ukraine,
England, France, etc.), they reminded all of us how very much
more there is still to be done in this important and significant
Lastly, a word about the participants: Each of us, as noted,
was from a variety of disciplines and institutional settings,
and, thus, our orientation to this material was somewhat different.
(For instance, two of our colleagues were a Jesuit priest
from Rwanda studying for his doctorate in Social Ethics at
Boston University, who shared insights with us all during
the week based upon his own experiences as well as that of
his family in that horrendous genocide. And a Seventh Day
Adventist Professor of History and Theology at Andrews University,
MI, originally from Serbia, who, also, enlarged our conversations
based on his own experiences.) The commitment to the material,
however, created an instant bond among the scholars present.
Because we, as a group, very much want to continue our conversations
and network with each other, drawing upon our strengths, the
Museum is now committed to exploring setting up communications
for us over the Internet. Because this semester, I am teaching
courses in both the Holocaust and Genocide, this week spent
at the Museum in this Seminar was particularly valuable. I
am finding I am already reflecting differently on the material
I am presenting to my students and re-thinking many of the
assumptions with which I began this work. The generosity of
the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Center for Advanced
Holocaust Studies, and the Aronov Endowment, have, therefore,
had an impact on our students here in Tuscaloosa.
(For more information, please visit the United
States Holocaust Memorial Museum or the Institute
for the Study of Genocide, also the home of the International
Association of Genocide scholars.)