You don’t have to be a student to delve into the latest research that Kean University academics are doing on the Holocaust and related topics.
Through a partnership with the YM-YWHA of Union County, Kean’s Jewish Studies Program is inviting members of the public to attend three lectures at the Y in Union, exploring various dimensions of the Holocaust through memoirs written by survivors, music composed in the camps, and movies created after the war.
Dr. Dennis Klein, director of the program and a professor of history at Kean, also in Union, will launch the series on Wednesday evening, Jan. 19. His talk, “Introduction and Reading Survivor Memoirs Between the Lines,” will look at testimonies by survivors who say they knew their assailants before the Holocaust.
“In bearing witness,” Klein said, “survivors are actually recalling a profound betrayal and, moreover, seek in their memoirs to renegotiate their fraternal bonds with their assailants-slash-neighbors.”
Klein is the author of four books and founding editor-in-chief of Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies and founding director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Braun Center for Holocaust Studies. He told NJ Jewish News that the field of Holocaust study is producing “really good new material.”
Some of it is coming from archives opened just in the past two decades. Some is the natural evolution, with survivors and witnesses becoming willing to re-examine the mechanisms of the brutal acts committed against them and the social factors that fueled those acts. “The material is hard to look at,” Klein said, “but we keep learning new things from it.”
The second talk, “The Composers of Terezin, Music of the Holocaust,” on Feb. 23, will be given by Dr. Matthew Halper, an award-winning composer and a professor of music at Kean, and artistic director of Ars Vitalis: The New Jersey New Music Forum.
Halper started out with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and a master’s in applied mathematics, before going on to do his doctorate in music composition. He said his interest in the composers of Terezin — or Theresienstadt, the Czech garrison town that served as a Nazi concentration camp — was first sparked when he spent a day there during a recent visit to Prague.
“I was struck, and moved, by the tremendous amount of art that was created at the prison camp — so much of it covertly,” he said. “In particular, as a composer, I wanted to become familiar with the music created by the numerous composers who passed through Terezin, most on their way to Auschwitz.”
He will introduce a few of the prominent composers of Terezin and the music they created there, he said, “a very modest act of remembrance and bearing witness to their creativity in the face of adversity, and, sadly, their tragic ends.”
The third talk, “Hollywood and the Holocaust,” is scheduled for Wednesday, March 23, and will be delivered by Dr. Robert Sitelman, the chair of Kean’s Department of Philosophy and Religion.
Klein said, “Our program — by working with Kean’s master’s degree program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, the Holocaust Resource Center, and our new Human Rights Center —is inviting the community, in part under the Y’s auspices, to explore a subject with ever new dimensions.”
This series is being funded in part by a HEART Grant from the Union County Board of Chosen Freeholders, said Y program director Jani Jonas, who came up with the idea for the series.