Holocaust is Termed a Watershed Event in History
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Holocaust is Termed a Watershed Event in History

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Calling the Holocaust a “watershed event in history,” Dr. Hubert Locke, vice-provost of the University of Washington, and keynote speaker at the International Conference on the Lessons of the Holocaust here, stressed that the events of World War II “speak with as much compelling urgency to non-Jews as to Jews.”

The three-day conference–Oct. 18-20–brought together educators and theologians from West Germany, Israel and the United States to discuss the historic lessons to be learned from the Holocaust and how to teach them to today’s students. Teachers, principals and school administrators from the three nations–as well as two representatives from France’s Alliance Israelite Universelle–shared classroom experiences, textbooks and other Holocaust studies’ resources. More than 500 persons attended.

Conference sponsors included the National Conference of Christians and Jews, the United States Catholic Bishops Conference, the National Institute on the Holocaust and the Philadelphia Coordinating Council on the Holocaust.

David Gross, Jewish Exponent staff writer, reported that the major focus of the conference was discussion of the breakdown in ethics among professional and vocational groups during the Holocaust period. “The Holocaust is a chilling reminder of what happens when you separate morality from science, religion, law, medicine and the professions, “said Dr. Franklin Littell, conference coordinator and chairman of the religion department at Temple University.

Locke described three distinct groups and their areas of ethical responsibility. Specialists, professionals and technicians, he said, must not remain indifferent to the direct consequences of their activity. Civil servants–such as police and teachers–must “address themselves to the wider issues of civil liberty and social justice,” Locke said, as part of their professional responsibility. Government, he added, must not choose political expediency over a firm stand on human rights. “Never again,” he said, “should Americans allow our government to be a bystander to human tragedy.”


Benjamin Halevi, deputy speaker of the Knesset and an Israeli Supreme Court Justice at the time of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, the other keynote speaker, declared: “Never again will we stand alone as the Jews of Nazi Europe did. We must have friends and allies and we must teach the true lessons of the Holocaust so the young can understand what might happen if they remain passive.”

An emotional highlight of the conference was the luncheon address by Frederick H. Weibgen, a liaison officer with the United Nations. Weibgen, who was born in Germany in 1942, detailed the process by whi###he came to doubt the version of events taught him by his parents–his father had been a colonel in the 55.

He recalled how he, as a child, had taunted an old Jewish man and how he realized that such behavior must have been learned from his parents. He recalled the family friend, on 55 general, who suddenly reappeared after several mysterious years in the Middle East immediately after the war. “We must,” he concluded, “always doubt the words of man–always investigate for ourselves and not accept the word of another.”

Other conference sessions dealt with right and wrong methods of teaching the Holocaust, the commitment of the West German government to teaching the Holocaust and eye-witness reports from several of those who opened various death camps. Joseph Borkin, author of the recently published “The Crime and Punishment of I. G. Farben,” was also a featured speaker.

A major art exhibit, “The Living Witness: Art in the Concentration Camp,” opened at the Museum of American Jewish history in conjunction with the conference. The exhibit, coordinated by local artist Mary Costanza, features art work by camp inmates and will run through December.


Prior to the Holocaust conference, 85 theologians from Germany and North America participated in a two-day symposium. At its conclusion, they issued a statement, calling on their fellow Christians to observe the 40th anniversary of Kristallnacht (“the night of broken glass”) on Nov. 9-10, 1938 when there was a widescale public attack on the Jews of Germany.

“We remember with shame the days when we abandoned the Jews in the face of the enemy,” the Christian theologians said. “We call upon Christians everywhere to repent for our acts of betrayal of the Jews; to be alert to anti-Semitism wherever it may arise, and to do all in our power to oppose it; to pledge ourselves to build a new and positive relationship with the Jewish people; and to join in prayers, vigil and ecumenical services to commemorate Kristallnacht and Holocaust Remembrance Day.”

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