In the classroom...
Deconstructing GENOCIDE

By Scott Rappaport

All Photos: Jim MacKenzie

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"You can't stop a genocide when the camps are already built and the trains are rolling. You have to recognize it in the boycotts of ethnic businesses, the restrictions of civil liberties."

– Tom Hogan

When 24-year-old junior Emily Atencio sat down in history lecturer Tom Hogan's class about the Holocaust last winter quarter, she was surprised at what she encountered. "I was expecting all these movies and awful photos," she recalls. "But he told us on the first day of class: 'We're already past that; we've already seen that. Now we need to focus on how this actually happened and why it lasted so long.'"

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Hogan's course, The Holocaust: Industrial Murder, Institutional Complicity, took an alternative approach to teaching about this critical and horrific chapter in human history.

"You can look at the Holocaust from a variety of angles," Hogan says. "But I don't think students see the big picture if they are only hammered on the head with guilt and shocking images. To truly understand what happened, you need to take an almost clinical approach to the subject, to view it as a disease that has symptoms and warning signs."

From the very first day of class, Hogan stressed that anti-Semitism and hate alone were not sufficient to sustain the Holocaust. He warned students that conditions leading to genocide slowly become institutional forces, progressively becoming part of people's lives without them even being aware of it.

To illustrate this point, each student in the class was assigned a major institution in German society--such as transportation, finance, the family, or religion--and asked to analyze how it was used to create and perpetuate the Holocaust.

"Students need to see how institutions were first corrupted, and then utilized in sync to create a system of mass murder," Hogan says. "Each student dove in to really look at how the fabric of German society changed to create social death for Jews--and then actual death."

Although the Holocaust is one of the most gruesome and well-documented examples of genocide in the recent past, there are many other less widely known instances that have occurred in the last 100 years. Hogan teamed up last spring with Michael Thaler--a professor emeritus at UC San Francisco School of Medicine, as well as an authority on the study of Nazi medicine--to teach a course that examined 20th-century genocides in Armenia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and Cambodia, as well as Germany.


Emily Atencio at right.

But it is the prospect of 21st-century genocides that has UCSC's Humanities Division exploring the possibility of creating an Institute for Comparative Genocide.

"Historically, UCSC has taken pride in combining scholarship and public activism," Humanities Dean Wlad Godzich notes. "Genocides are the most horrific actions carried out by humans. Educating students about them addresses a dimension of human experience that we often find difficult to describe, but must learn to analyze in order to protect ourselves and others."

Even though UCSC is now taking a more comprehensive and analytical look at the development of genocide, the subject still elicits an intense emotional reaction from students like Atencio. This personal impact was never more apparent than on the day Hogan brought in survivors of Auschwitz and witnesses from the ghettos of Warsaw and Lodz to speak to the class.

"It's a completely different experience from watching a movie, looking at a photo, or reading a book," Atencio says. "When someone looks you in the eye, and you see the marks on their body, and you see the tears in their eyes when they talk about losing their family members--it sinks in that it really did happen. And that it wasn't 100 years ago. It happened in the recent past, in a pretty civilized society."

"There are some classes where you leave the room at the end of the quarter and immediately forget so much," she adds. "In this class you couldn't."


Holocaust Studies at UC Santa Cruz

UCSC began offering classes in Holocaust studies during the mid-1980s after a campus visit by Leopold Page, Schindler's List survivor number 173. Page's visit took place several years after he had told his story to Australian author Thomas Keneally, but nearly a decade before Steven Spielberg turned Keneally's best-selling novel into the Academy Award-winning film.

"Leopold Page came to a conference on the 40th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz," recalls Murray Baumgarten, UCSC professor of English and comparative literature. "Before he left, he suggested we should teach a course about the Holocaust."

That suggestion led to the birth of The Holocaust: The Destruction of European Jewry, an annual upper-division class with a popularity that has surprised even its teachers, Baumgarten and history professor Peter Kenez. "As Peter always says, when we started, we thought there would be less and less interest in the subject as time passed, but we couldn't have been more wrong," says Baumgarten.

"And current history, especially the surge in anti-Semitism in Europe and the Middle East, has made the Holocaust a hot item."

Using funds given by Page from the "1939" club, a Los Angeles Jewish organization founded by Holocaust survivors, Baumgarten and Kenez began to bring in guest speakers, present film screenings, and organize conferences on the UCSC campus. They also made it a point to have survivors of the Holocaust visit their classroom. One of those survivors was UCSC Foundation Trustee Anne Neufeld Levin.

Anne Frederika Neufeld and her family escaped from Austria and immigrated to the United States in 1939. Nearly 60 years later, she donated the Neufeld Family Archive to the UC Santa Cruz library's Special Collections and established the Neufeld Levin Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies at the campus. Professors Baumgarten and Kenez are co-holders of the Neufeld Levin Chair.

Because of this endowment and significant gifts from such organizations as the Koret Foundation and the Diller family, UCSC has been able to expand its Holocaust curriculum, adding additional courses exploring its relationship to music, film, art, and literature. This led to the establishment in 2000 of UCSC's interdisciplinary Jewish Studies Program, which today offers 20 courses, as well as a minor in the study of Jewish culture.

Last spring, the Jewish Studies Program presented a major three-day conference titled "Rethinking Anti-Semitism: The Holocaust and the Contemporary World," bringing together prominent scholars from around the globe. The event featured Yehuda Bauer, one of the world's premier Holocaust historians and director emeritus of Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust Museum.

—Scott Rappaport

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