The following recent news release is about Holocaust scholarship at the University of Vermont (UVM):
This is good news. Congratulations to UVM, Associate Professor Susanna Schrafstetter, and Professor Alan Steinweis.
Today, as much as ever, we need to understand how a civilized people can commit such a horrible atrocity as the Holocaust. The amount of anger, intolerance and hate in today’s world is alarming. Here is a recent example from Cornell University, a small example but one of many, especially on today’s college campuses. We need to control our emotions so that they don’t escalate into violence. It was small acts of violence that escalated into the Holocaust. And unfortunately social media makes the problem of controlling our emotions even harder today than it was 75-80 years ago during the Holocaust and World War II: Social Media Is Making Us Dumber. Here’s Exhibit A. (New York Times op-ed, subscription may be required, sorry)
It is perhaps not widely known that UVM was the long-time home of one of the world’s preeminent Holocaust scholars. He is not mentioned in the news release above. Dr. Raul Hilberg was a professor of political science at UVM from 1955 to 1991. From Wikipedia:
He was widely considered to be the world’s preeminent scholar of the Holocaust, and his three-volume, 1,273-page magnum opus, The Destruction of the European Jews, is regarded as a seminal study of the Nazi Final Solution.
In addition to scholars, sometimes novelists can help us understand our world. Two excellent novels of historical fiction about World War II are The Winds of War and War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk. The books were published in the 1970s. Two TV miniseries based on the books were produced in the 1980s.
Wouk, a Jew, wondered how a good and gracious God could allow such evil as the Holocaust. He answered that question in War and Remembrance, in a sermon by his character Aaron Jastrow in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The title of the sermon is “Heroes of the Iliad,” but Jastrow (and Wouk) did not find the answer in the Iliad. The title of the sermon was intentionally misleading, to avoid the attention of the German authorities.
Jastrow (and Wouk) found the answer in the Book of Job in the Old Testament. Wouk reprinted that sermon and further explained it in his non-fiction book The Language God Talks: On Science and Religion, published in 2010 (image above).
Wouk consulted with Hilberg at UVM when he (Wouk) was writing his WWII novels. Wouk attended and spoke at Hilberg’s retirement party in 1991. Raul Hilberg died in 2007 at age 81. Herman Wouk is still alive at age 102.
(This post draws on material from this earlier post.)