Looking at the Holocaust from a variety of standpoints will foster a greater understanding of the catastrophe, said a philosophy scholar to a classroom filled with students and faculty in Sierra Hall on Thursday.
“There are aspects of the Holocaust that can’t be illuminated by the kind of research that history does,” said Dr. John K. Roth, Edward J. Sexton philosophy professor and former Director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, California. He said that looking at the Holocaust from the viewpoints of art, film, religious studies, and taking gender into consideration is necessary to gain a greater sense of experiences of those that perished.
The lecture by Dr. Roth was organized by professor Jody Myers, who is the coordinator for the Jewish Studies program. It follows a series of lectures that address varying topics. Coordiation took about a tear to arrange, said Dr. Tamas Ungvari, CSUN history lecturer.
History is at the foundation for providing knowledge of the Holocaust, but different mediums lend something more to understanding the loss of life, onset of death, and emotions natural to the human experience.
“Only as we kind of get this mixture of approaches, do we begin to get anything that approaches an outlook,” he said.
Survivors’ testimony provides a record of their experiences and what life was like during the Holocaust, Roth said. He referenced works by David Boder and Robert Pogue Harrison, and Holocaust survivor Elie Weisel in trying to analyze how those that died during the Holocaust affected those that survived. In reading his own essay, he discussed Boder’s interviews with a man that survived in a flooding cellar by sitting on the bodies of those that died. He also questioned how those experiences communicate to the survivors about the deaths of the victims.
“Absent memories, the dead would not even be forgotten. They would just be left to decay and disappear. Present memories, however, mean that we do not forget the dead, at least not entirely,” Roth said. It is human nature to bury lost loved ones in a way to preserve their memory and consciously keep a part of them with us, he said. During the Holocaust, Roth said, the Nazis burned the bodies of Jews as a way to defy remembrance and destroy Jewish life and the memory of it.
Some responded to this by saying that is essential today to preserve the memories of those that died then.
“We are responsible to remember. We have to find the meaning,” said Ungvari, also a Holocaust survival. He added that the discussion of the details of the Holocaust is significant to acknowledge the tragedy.
“There are still a lot of people who have doubts about the Holocaust and how it happened,” he said.
Others said that survival is just a part of discussing the enormous number of deaths.
“Every time we talk about the Holocaust, we should talk about people who went through the guilt and went forward,” said Dr. Ralph Segalman, CSUN sociology professor. Segalman, also a Holocaust survivor noted how people that left Europe came to America and built families and new lives.
Students interested in more information about the Holocaust can visit the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. It features live testimonies from Holocaust survivors, sometimes live volunteers.