Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Stuff of nightmares

By Noah Cooperstein

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. – Auschwitz. Adolf Hitler. Death Camps. Gas Chambers. These

are only a few words that have been implanted into the minds of many but are fully understood

by few. With history often repeating itself, people must learn about tragedies, like that of the

Holocaust, to prevent such horrors of recurring. However, to teach the Holocaust is an emotional

yet beneficial struggle.

Dr. Richard Schaefer, associate professor in history and coordinator of the religious

studies program, believes that studying history and the events that have shaped the course of time

is essential into seeing the full picture.

“You can’t just hear a blurb about something and think you know it. To study history is

to open yourself up to learning complex things,” said Dr. Schaefer. “History and historians aren't

just giving you a script. You are being challenged to think about complex things.”

Many educators of the Holocaust, however, come across various other challenges when

discussing these events.

Dr. Jonathan Slater, associate professor of public relations and director of the Jewish

studies program, Dr. Carol Lipszyc, associate professor of english and Dr. Howard Gontovnick,

adjunct professor of interdisciplinary studies, have found it is often difficult to separate the

personal connection they have when discussing the Holocaust.

“Being the daughter of two survivors, it is integral to who I am and my world view,” said

Dr. Lipszyc. “My father never spoke of it while my mother began speaking to me about it when I

was an adolescent.”

Dr. Slater, who had distant relatives who were affected by the Holocaust, views these

events as an ongoing matter.

“During the Passover Seder we talk about the liberation of Jews. We are taught to speak

of our liberation as it is ongoing,” said Dr. Slater, discussing the story of Passover and the

Exodus from Egypt. “This goes for any period of Jewish history. That is when I think of the

Holocaust, I think about my people being murdered. I could have been there.”

For Dr. Schaefer, the personal connection to the Holocaust is a side that is not often

talked about.

Dr. Schaefer, who is of German background, had two distant uncles that were members

of the SS, the Schutzstaffel, a paramilitary organization under the Nazis.

“When you know that, it makes the Holocaust very personal, but in different way.”

One of the biggest issues that many educators find with teaching the topic is the

Holocaust deniers.

Dr. Schaefer believes that many of the misconceptions and denial comes from what

students and other individuals find on the Internet.

“Something, somewhere is happening. Student’s have a real problem using computers,”

said Dr. Schaefer. “They think just because it appears on a screen, it’s true.”

Dr. Gontovnick notices that some individuals don't see it as something real and thus

leading them to have a hard time in understanding the Holocaust.

“I am amazed at the ignorance that people have towards the Holocaust,” said Dr.

Gontovnick. “A lot of people make assumptions. They don’t understand the greater issue.”

To help students gain a greater understanding of the Holocaust, SUNY Plattsburgh

alongside the Jewish Studies Program, helps the community, both campus as well as local

residents, to understand the observance of Yom Hashoah.

Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is internationally recognized and is in

remembrance of those who were affected by the Holocaust. This year the day is recognized on

Thursday, May 5 while the school will hold it’s annual Day of Remembrance event on Tuesday,

May 3rd.

The Day of Remembrance event is held in the Douglas and Evelyne Skopp Holocaust

Memorial Gallery, located in the Feinberg Library.

During the commemoration, there is a feature speaker as well as an exhibit that

showcases a different theme of the Holocaust each year, with this year’s theme being rescue and


While all of these educators, who each teach as well as discuss the Holocaust or other

aspects of the Jewish religion, all see a larger meaning on this matter, morality and the human

“We are shaping human beings here to be good citizens and be tolerant. I see a

transformation among the students, that it brings the best out of them,” said Dr. Lipszyc. “They

become more outraged by the injustice of things. It opens them up to being better citizens of any

country. They become more informed.”

Dr. Slater finds that there is an importance of telling the stories and discussing these


“It’s the stuff of nightmares,” said Dr. Slater. “How can you even think of undergoing

something like that? It is so important not to just talk about it, but to teach about it.”

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