By Debra Mandel
April’s Holocaust Awareness Week powerfully
illuminated the Holocaust experience through the
lens of current political and social crises in the US and abroad. The Holocaust Awareness Committee, chaired by Dov Waxman, Professor of Political Science, International Affairs, and Israel Studies and Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, planned four insightful forums to confront and discuss this year’s theme, “Nazism and Fascism: Then and Now.”
The week kicked off with the Bill Giessen Film Screening
“Welcome to Leith,” the hard-edged 2015 documentary which chronicles the attempted takeover of a small town in North Dakota by notorious white supremacist Neo-Nazi Craig Cobb and the persistent fight by residents to remove him and his followers. A lively post-film discussion was led by Northeastern’s Jack Levin, Professor Emeritus of Sociology and Criminology and Co-Director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict and Gordana Rabrenovic, Associate Professor of Sociology and the Director of the Brudnick Center on Violence and Conflict.
Combining scholarly presentation with conversation,
the 26th Annual Robert Salomon Morton Lecture, “Nazism and Fascism: Then and Now,” compared the trends of Nazism and Fascism pre-World War II to today’s disturbing anti-democratic, racist events. Geoff Eley, Karl Pohrt Distinguished University Professor of Contemporary History at the University of Michigan, articulated the factors which influence a “drive toward radical national right-wing extremism and authoritarianism.” The factors include crises of governmental representation and paralysis, global migration and related anxieties about borders and boundaries that have arisen during the Trump presidency and in Europe. Ruth Ben-Ghiat, New York University Professor of History and Italian, illustrated the role potent images, film, and propaganda played in Germany and Italy under Hitler and Mussolini, and how they are being used by the far
right today, especially via social media. Dean Uta Poiger, Northeastern’s Dean of the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, moderated the engaging session and remarked how it provided “many frameworks for showing us danger as well as frameworks for recognizing one’s humanity.” Today’s youth-led anti-gun-violence movement and some Germans’ outreach to Syrian refugees provide some signs of hope.
As the speaker for the Philip N. Backstrom Jr. Survivor Lecture Series, Dr. Anna Ornstein presented a riveting
talk, “What History Can Teach Us: Reflections of a Holocaust Survivor,” in which she shared her perspectives
on today’s landscape of intolerance. A retired Professor of Child Psychiatry at the University of Cincinnati and
Lecturer in Child Psychiatry at Harvard University Medical School, Ornstein recounted the rapid spread of Nazism in her
small town in Hungary, her horrific years in the Auschwitz concentration camp and her post-war experiences in Germany when she rented housing from a Nazi, “the perfect bystander.” The audience engaged with Dr. Ornstein in a frank and energetic q and a, moderated by Marty Blatt, Northeastern’s Professor of the Practice in History and Director of Public History Program. Making strong parallels between Nazism and the Trump era, Ornstein warned about today’s dire climate, where “racism is still a potent process in social and political life.” With a deep understanding of the individual’s moral role in society, she encouraged audience members to partake in protest and civil disobedience and to “make time for these conversations.” For an in-depth account of her Holocaust experience, read her book, My Mother’s Eyes.
NIZKOR (We Remember) was the name of the Holocaust Commemoration event, a mesmerizing collage of dance and Holocaust poetry readings, directed and choreographed by Danielle Murad Waiss, this year’s Gideon Klein Scholar. Murad Waiss, a fourth year student in political science and international affairs, created this performance to “explore the many facets of the Holocaust and hopefully bring the audience a different perspective of what happened.” Through movement, spoken word, music, lighting, and costumes, Murad Waiss, cast, and crew created a memorable experience that should be shared with wider audiences. The evening was a tour-de-force, a tribute to the human spirit. (In recognition of her contribution to the University, Murad Waiss was just awarded the Presidential Global Fellows award from Northeastern.)
If you missed any of this year’s events, you may watch them via streaming video. Links are available on the Holocaust Awareness at Northeastern website: https://www.northeastern.edu/hac/
Read the rest of the Spring 2018 Haverim newsletter here: