March 30, 2020
Newsletter for the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies at UT Dallas
The 50th Annual Scholars' Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches
The History and Future of the Holocaust and its Memory
Dr. Nils Roemer, Ackerman Center Director and Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities, kicked off the opening dinner of the 50th Annual Scholars’ Conference with an engaging discussion about the impact of the digital age on the field of historical studies.
Dr. Roemer emphasized the significance of technological innovations that have given researchers new tools and resources that have expanded the trajectory of scholarship. This unprecedented digital era was the inspiration for this year’s conference theme, “The History and Future of the Holocaust and its Memory,” which featured three topic tracks: History, Memory and Thought, and Looking Forward.
The conference brought scholars from all over the globe together to discuss issues related to Holocaust history, remembrance, and education in ways that were unimaginable fifty years ago when this conference was founded.
New Digital Studies of the Holocaust
Dr. Nils Roemer launched the first day of the conference, with a special panel presentation titled “New Digital Studies of the Holocaust” that discussed an ongoing innovative collaborative research project currently underway at the Ackerman Center. The first phase of the Digital Studies of the Holocaust initiative was introduced during the 49th ASC in 2018 by Dr. Nils Roemer, Dr. Sarah R. Valente, Amal Shafek, Piyush Kamdar, and Nakul Markandy. This project initially focused on implementing geographic information systems (GIS) to dissect the complex process of the mass killing of Jews in Europe during WWII. However, it soon became apparent that the spatial analysis of deportations alone is only one of the contributions data science can lend to the study of the Holocaust in the digital age.
Considering the interdisciplinary nature of this project, the team has expanded to include the data visualization skills of Shefali Sahu, a graduate student majoring in Management Sciences at UT Dallas. Together, our team has developed an interactive and user-friendly tool that can serve to analyze larger shifts in the pattern of deportations across Europe, detailing victims from specific urban centers and countries, while also visualizing the experience of individual victims.
Dr. Nils Roemer introducing the New Digital Studies of the Holocaust project
Dr. Sarah R. Valente presenting data research
Shefali Sahu discussing data visualization
One of the features of this tool is the ability to visualize in one circos plot a comprehensive view of the deportations of Holocaust victims from the German Reich, Belgium, France, Luxemburg, Greece, Italy, and the Netherlands from 1939-1945. In addition, the user is able to limit the visualizations to their choice of one or more of the previously mentioned countries along with the option to select certain points in time. There are several promising ways this feature could be used in Holocaust Studies classrooms, especially given that the circos plot is accompanied by a detailed timeline of major historical events from both WWII and the Holocaust.
This ambitious project also aims to shed light on the all-encompassing nature of the Holocaust not only to European populations but also other victims from around the world. Therefore, the project aims to include, document and visualize stories of non-European individuals who were victims of the Holocaust. For example, victims born in North Africa and Latin America who were also murdered by the Nazis in concentration camps in Europe, are included. Our project aims to introduce new ways of seeing and remembering the Holocaust. Visualizing the smaller number of non-European victims might seem statistically insignificant, but their individual fates open new windows into the Holocaust.
The Digital Studies of the Holocaust initiative is funded by the Ackerman Center for Holocaust Studies and by the RFTF2 endowment.
The Annual Scholars’ Conference After 50 Years: What Have We Learned?
Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell presented our first lunch keynote addresses of the conference on Sunday. She discussed the origins of the ASC, highlighting the influence of prominent scholars, both then and now, who have shaped the field of Holocaust studies. Dr. Littell emphasized the importance of furthering our understanding of the Shoah, and how the future of the discipline was now in the hands of the next generation of scholars, such as those in attendance for this momentous conference.
Defiance and Protest: Forgotten Individual Jewish Resistance in Nazi Germany
Dr. Wolf Gruner presented the Michael and Elaine Jaffe Lecture, “Defiance and Protest: Forgotten Individual Jewish Resistance in Nazi Germany,” where he discussed the idea of resistance as a group effort, rather than a consideration of individual acts on a daily basis. Dr. Gruner shared his research, which included video testimonies from survivors, where they shard their experiences of resistance on a day-to-day basis. He emphasized how more often than not, their actions were not premeditated, and rather, the result of split-second decision-making made in the midst of impossible circumstances. He concluded that obtaining an exact number of these acts of resistance during the war would be almost impossible because the nature of resistance is difficult to define, especially taking into consideration the varying activities regarded as opposition.
Dr. Gruner is the Shapell-Guerin Chair in Jewish Studies at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, and the Founding Director of the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.
Holocaust Childhood: Wounds that Never Heal
In a special public event in conjunction with the 50th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, Robert Ratonyi presented the Mitchell L. and Miriam Lewis Barnett Lecture, “Holocaust Childhood: Wounds that Never Heal,” where he shared his experience of growing up as a Jewish child in Hungary during the Holocaust. He was introduced by his wife, Eva, a 1976 UT Dallas alumna who is also a Hungarian Holocaust survivor.
In March of 1944, Ratyoni was only six years old when the Final Solution was implemented in Hungary at an accelerated pace not seen in any other country during the Holocaust. He remarked that even the Germans were astounded at the enthusiasm with which the local population, government officials and administration approached the Jewish Question in Hungary. In rapid succession, the Hungarian government enacted Anti-Semitic legislation that excluded Jews from the civil and social sphere, and by early Spring, preparations had been made for the deportation of Hungarian Jewry to extermination camps. Between May 15th and July 9th, approximately 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz and most were gassed upon arrival.
Ratonyi opened his discussion with two questions: how did the Holocaust happen in an era of culture and intellect that still allowed the perpetration of Nazi atrocities, and in the aftermath of the Holocaust, how can we prevent future genocides?
Ratonyi recalled the summer of 1944 as the first time that he was forced to wear the yellow star. Soon after, he and his mother, along with over 200,000 Jews that remained in the city were forced to move into the “Big Ghetto” in Budapest.
He described the violence and cruelty of the Arrow Cross militia that terrorized the ghetto population into submission, and how they attempted to kill as many Jews as possible before the Soviet army arrived. Many times, Ratonyi witnessed the militia take Jews to the banks of the Danube, where they were shot and thrown into the river. In heart-wrenching detail, he described the devastation he felt watching as his mother was deported during the liquidation of the “Big Ghetto” by the Arrow Cross.
Ratonyi emphasized the conflicting realities of the war from a standpoint of the year 1944; at a time when most considered the war to be almost over, with the Soviets having liberated much of Eastern Europe and the Allies making considerable progress in the West, the nightmare facing the Jews of Hungary was only just beginning.
He concluded his lecture by providing answers to the questions he posed earlier, remarking that one should never stand silent to the suffering of others. He expressed concerns about world-wide rising Anti-Semitism as one reason he chooses to continue to tell his story, in the hope that his experience can help to combat the diseases of the heart like racism, discrimination and Anti-Semitism that contributed to the Holocaust.
Mr. Ratonyi presenting the Barnett Lecture
Mr. Ratonyi included a recording of some of his more emotional testimony.
Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth (middle) with Robert and Eva Ratonyi
Faith Commons Leads Discussion on the Role of the Holocaust in Interfaith Relations
Rabbi Nancy Kasten and Reverend Dr. George Mason from Faith Commons, an organization dedicated to promoting interfaith cooperation, facilitated a discussion on the role the Holocaust plays in interfaith relations following lunch on the second day of the conference.
Participants were divided into small groups and asked to respond to a series of questions intended to generate discussions about how Holocaust studies in general, and the Annual Scholars’ Conference in particular may contribute to developing responses, adaptations, and resistance to current assaults on civil society.
Kristen Nelson, Professor at Gratz College, shared that her experience as an attorney working on property restitution for Holocaust survivors and those affected by the Armenian Genocide is greatly influenced by the academic study of the Holocaust. According to Nelson, the judgments resulting from Holocaust cases set the foundation for restitution for victims of other atrocities, such as those in Syria and Iraq.
Another participant shared that the study of the Holocaust prepares us to resist assaults on civil society even in their infancy, realizing that it is much easier to address such assaults while they are still small and before they have the opportunity to mature.
Rev. Dr. Hank Knight
Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth, Selly Belofsky, and Dr. Sarah R. Valente
Dr. Richard Libowitz (right) participating in a small group discussion.
Congratulations to Dr. Martin Rumscheidt, this year’s Eternal Flame Award recipient
More photos from the Ceremony
75 Years Later: The Enduring Legacy of the Nuremberg Trials
Ben Ferencz, Chief Prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial, spoke as part of a keynote panel to attendees of the 50th Annual Scholars’ Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches via Skype during a special presentation.
Meet the Panel
Michael Bazyler, Professor of Law at Chapman University, moderated the session and delivered a lecture on “The Road to Nuremberg.”
Following presentations by Michael S. Bryant and Kristen Nelson on The International Military Tribunal and the legacy of Nuremberg, Ferencz spent half an hour answering questions from Bazyler and members of the audience.
Ferencz spoke of his experience landing at Normandy, participating in every major battle of the war and witnessing the atrocities at the concentration camps before he became the Chief Prosecutor at the Einsatzgruppen Trial.
On the right: Chief prosecutor Benjamin Ferencz presents documents as evidence at the Einsatzgruppen Trial. (Photo courtesy of USHMM)
Ferencz explained that it only took him two days to rest his case and convict each of the Einsatzgruppen defendants of crimes against humanity because the Gestapo kept very meticulous records of the genocide, which he discovered at their headquarters in Berlin. He further explained that “every single day they reported faithfully how many Jews they had killed that day and who the commanding officer was,” and that “instead of being ashamed of what they had to do, killing all the Jewish children, they boasted about it.”
Not only did the Einsatzgruppen keep records of and boast about the slaughter of millions of men, women and children, but according to Ferencz, “no one, no one, showed any signs of remorse at any time.”
When asked why only twenty-two defendants were selected for prosecution, Ferencz responded, “every member of the 3,000 members of the Einsatzgruppen, every single one without any doubt whatsoever, was an accomplice or a direct committer of murder against innocent people. I had to select only 22 out of 3,000 because we only had 22 seats in the Nuremberg courtroom,” adding “It’s an absolutely ridiculous reason.” If they had not limited the proceedings, however, Ferencz said he “would still be trying Germans in Germany.”
Special Mention: Exhibit curated by the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Comission “The Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust”
Learn about the Texas Holocaust and Genocide Commission's The Texas Liberator: Witness to the Holocaust project, that includes an educational app, book, and exhibit.