Michael Berenbaum, a professor at the American Jewish University, gave the first inaugural lecture for the newly founded Ray Wolpow Institute on the importance of Holocaust and genocide education in today’s world.
Berenbaum started by presenting a brief history of the Holocaust, the implications it had on the world at the time of the occurrence, and finished the lecture with his reasons as to why it is important to teach Holocaust and genocide history.
The idea proposed by Berenbaum is that by educating others about the Holocaust, there is a hope that we will be able to rid our future of such massive killing events that happen on the basis of someone’s identity.
Before giving the audience a brief history of the Holocaust, Berenbaum used six phrases—definition, expropriation, concentration, death camps, deportation, mobile killing units—to describe the brutal past of the people who were part of the Holocaust.
During the lecture, Berenbaum also touched on the refugee problem we are currently facing. He spoke of the “push and pull” idea—people leave because they feel pushed out, or they feel pulled towards something new. Berenbaum used this push and pull idea to explain why African American history in the U.S. differs from other races. They were not given the choice to come to the U.S.; they were neither pushed nor pulled, but dragged into this country without a choice.
When talking about refugees, Berenbaum stated, “How do you rebuild your life in the aftermath of destruction?” which brought up the question, how can a society rebuild after destruction?
Following the lecture, audience members were given the chance to participate in a Q&A that contained many questions, only a few of which were answered.
“What do you have to say about the dangers of using empathy in political presentations to spread and convince the public of certain ideas?” asked a young woman.
Berenbaum responded, “Frankly, I would like to see more empathy in our society, not less.” He continued on to say, “In a world of strangeness, create empathy." The world could use more empathy in order to bring us together and address the current refugee problem we are facing. The answer got many smiles and nods of agreement from the remaining members of the audience. A standing ovation was given to Berenbaum after the completion of the lecture.
In addition to being a professor, Berenbaum is the current director of the Sigi Ziering Institute, has written and edited 20 books, and has been part of multiple documentaries including "One Survivor Remembers" (1995), which won a Primetime Emmy Award for outstanding informational special.
Most of the books written by Berenbaum are centered around the Holocaust, one specifically being “The World Must Know: The History of the Holocaust as Told in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.” Both the book and the museum provide more information on the Holocaust, and showcase work that Berenbaum has done to raise awareness and understanding of the Holocaust history.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website is an amazing place to learn more about the Holocaust and view current exhibits at the museum without having to be there in person. The site also includes a Holocaust Encyclopedia where an extensive amount of Holocaust history and information can be found at the click of a button.
This year, the Ray Wolpow Institute for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes Against Humanity was created at Western Washington University. The institute is named after Ray Wolpow, a retired Western professor who educated students and the public on the Holocaust, genocide, ethnocide, and other crimes against humanity.
Around 200 students, staff, and community members attended the lecture. Among them was Noemi Ban, one of the few remaining Holocaust survivors. The Woodring College of Education will host Noemi Ban on Nov. 9th to tell her story about the time she spent at the Auschwitz-Bikenau death camp.
By learning about mistakes societies have made in the past, we have the opportunity to create a world where there is no genocide. Seeing such an extreme form of societal destruction should serve as an example a path we as a society do not want to walk on.
As a society, it is our choice to lean toward success or failure, and with reflecting on the past and the history of our world, we are able to make decisions that will result in the success of our culture.
“Two types of choices seem to me to have been crucial in tipping the outcomes (of the various societies’ histories) towards success or failure: long-term planning and willingness to reconsider core values. On reflection, we can also recognize the crucial role of these same two choices for the outcomes of our individual lives.” –Jared Diamond