Personal Confrontations with the Past
In The Politics of Haunting and Memory in International Relations, Jessica Auchter suggests that the language of “haunted and haunting” are valuable in describing the impact of memories of the past. The weeklong commemorations hosted by Northeastern’s Holocaust Awareness Week had such “haunting” qualities. Speaking to the theme of “Personal Confrontations,” the events – commemoration speeches on the role of law and photography; a sobering conversation with a Holocaust survivor; a film in which the children of Nazi war criminals are confronted; and a captivating lecture on the origins of “genocide” and “crimes against humanities” – exhibited the affective, bodily, material and ethical implications that haunt us when we encounter the painful memories of the Holocaust.
Philippe Sands, Professor of Law and Director of the Center on International Courts and Tribunals at the University College London, delivered the Robert S. Morton Lecture and set the framework for the week of personal confrontations with the past. He spoke about his close encounters with Hans Frank and Horst von Wächter – sons of Nazi perpetrators – with whom Sands crossed paths while researching his book East West Street: On the Origins of “Genocide” and “Crimes Against Humanity.” The relationship between these men and their painful confrontations with devastating family histories was also the topic of the screening of Sand’s documentary What Our Fathers Did: A Nazi Legacy.
Sand’s book and film were complemented by two other, personal reflections during the commemoration lectures. Rose Zoltek-Jick’s talk narrated the personal story – her story – of a professor’s wrestling with the ethics of pursuing an academic career in, and having a passion for, the law when considering the extent to which law made possible the planning and execution of the Holocaust. In the same vein, Alison Campbell, a student and photographer, offered her moving biographical account of another photographer, Wilhelm Brasse. Brasse was an Auschwitz prisoner who was forced to take prisoner identity photographs by the thousands; his skill and passion for photography were turned into a tool of the Nazi regime. These insights were brought home in survivor Aron Greenfield’s touching, personal lecture.
Asked during the Q&A for his film if the concept of “haunted and haunting” aptly describes the personal encounters that inform his recent work, Philippe Sands agreed. The memoirs and reflections by Sands, Zoltek-Jick, Campbell, and Greenfield not only brought home the haunting stories of suffering and violence during the Holocaust, they also recounted the ways these individuals continue to be haunted by what they research, hear, see and confront.
See videos and photos from the week at the archives website.
Read the rest of the Spring 2017 Haverim Newsletter here.