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2013 “Neighbors Turning Against Neighbors”

This year, the thirty-sixth annual Vanderbilt University Holocaust Lecture Series will examine the enduring saga of genocide. While we may educate ourselves in humanity’s acts of extreme violence against its own, we must also ask whether we can rise above moral indignation alone and actively harbor persecuted peoples from ethnic cleansing and genocide in our own time.

Genocide, mass violence committed against a specific group of civilians with exterminationist intent, occurred long before Raphael Lemkin—a Polish Jew who found refuge in New York as the Holocaust was taking place in Europe—coined the term. And as Lemkin noted, the Jews were not the only group subject to destruction by the Third Reich and its collaborators.

Neighbor turning against neighbor.  People who have known each other for years, whose children have played together, suddenly divided by rising cycles of suspicion, hate, and violence.  One of the most chilling aspects of the Holocaust, and of other genocides, is the recurrence of this dismal phenomenon in virtually every culture in which genocides have taken place.  In this year’s lecture series we explore how such a thing could become possible – the psychological, social, and cultural factors that turn long-standing acquaintances (and some old friends) into victim and perpetrator.

On behalf of the 2013 Vanderbilt University Holocaust Lecture Series Committee, we cordially invite you to attend all of our thought provoking programs.

Nell Koneczny, ’13, Student Chair
Dr. Michael Bess, Chair

Dr. Jan Gross

Tuesday, October 1 in the Ben Schulman Center for Jewish Life Assembly Room

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Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland
Jan Gross

Poland was one site of the Holocaust in which Jews and non-Jews had lived side by side for centuries, their communities closely interwoven even as they maintained their distinctive traditions. Jan Gross, professor of history at Princeton University, is the author of the acclaimed book, Neighbors: The Destruction of the Jewish Community of Jedwabne, Poland (2002). In his talk Professor Gross describes the reaction his book elicited after its publication in Poland, as well as his more recent research on this important topic.

Dr. Helmut Smith

Wednesday, October 9 in Wilson Hall 126

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The History of Anti-Semitism in Germany
Helmut Smith

In March 1900, in the West Prussian town of Konitz, the dismembered body of a young man was found. When police failed to identify a clear suspect for the murder, rumors began to circulate that this had been a case of ritual murder perpetrated by local Jews. Over the ensuing months, an escalating cycle of accusations and hate tore the town of Konitz apart, and army troops had to be called in to keep the peace. Helmut Smith, Martha Rivers Ingram Professor of History at Vanderbilt, describes how the long traditions of anti-Semitism in German culture contributed to this remarkable breakdown of civic unity in a small German town.

Nelly Toll

Thursday, October 17 in the Student Life Center

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Behind the Secret Window: A Memoir of a Hidden Childhood During World War II
Nelly Toll

Author, painter, and adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania, Nelly Toll was born in Lvov, Poland, and as a young child, she was sent to live with a sympathetic Polish family. While hiding, Toll painted 64 watercolors of family, friends, and childre. Her vivid illustrations combine fairy tale figures with pre-war memories and depict a fantasy world, freedom, and child’s play. Her memoir, Behind the Secret Window, won nine awards and has been performed in the Netherlands and throughout the U.S. Her paintings hang at the U.S. Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

Philip Gourevitch

Wednesday, October 23 in the Bishop Joseph Johnson Black Cultural Center

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The Rwandan Genocide and Its Aftermath
Philip Gourevitch

We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families is the title of Philip Gourevitch’s award-winning book about the 1994 Rwandan genocide of Tutsis by Hutus, in which nearly a million persons were systematically murdered. Currently, Mr. Gourevitch, a regular contributor to the New Yorker magazine, is working on a new book about the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide and how a society can begin to recover from a collective trauma of such magnitude. In his talk he shares his most recent research and reflections.

Dr. Annamaria Orla-Bukowska

Wednesday, November 13 in Alumni Hall 201

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Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future
Annamaria Orla-Bukowska

Is it possible for two groups of people who have a long history of conflict, violence, and negative perceptions of each other to find a way toward reconciliation? Professor Orla-Bukowska is a social anthropologist at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, and the coauthor of the 2007 book, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future. In her lecture she returns to some of the themes and problems discussed by Professor Jan Gross at the beginning of this lecture series, sharing her research on current efforts in Poland at reconciliation and cultural bridge-building between Jews and non-Jews.