Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Complicate Your Thinking

When I signed up for MCHE’s four-day summer education seminar, “Responses to the Holocaust: Perpetrators, Victims, and Bystanders,” I assumed it would be a chance for me to review and solidify my understanding of the Holocaust.

Well, the seminar ended up being a good reminder that it’s not wise to make assumptions, because I spent most of it “complicating my thinking.” Mitch Braff, executive director of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, used this phrase to encourage us to embrace the Holocaust’s complexities. The presenters made me question basic assumptions I had about the Holocaust. Here are some examples:

· By analyzing actual train shipments, noted historian Dr. Robert Jan van Pelt challenged the commonly held belief that the Germans diverted resources from the Eastern Front to murder Jews. According to his research, in 1944 at the height of the Hungarian deportation, only ten of every 25,000 trains running each day in Europe were designated for the deportation of Jews.

· Dr. Severin Hochberg, a former historian with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, discussed the extent to which the Catholic Church, and specifically Pope Pius XII, was a bystander.

· On the final day, we explored the role of Jewish partisans in the war and the ethical issues they faced.

This seminar did complicate my thinking, but in a good way. Participating in these discussions reminded me that history is about real people, and it must be understood with all of its complexities to do it justice.

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