Millersville University of Pennsylvania hosted on 11-13 April 2018 the 35th Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide. The conferences on the Holocaust and Genocide have become a Millersville University landmark and brought to the university international recognition. Many distinguished speakers, scholars, writers and Holocaust survivors have participated in the conferences. Just to name a few of them: Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner; Yehuda Bauer, Professor of Holocaust Studies at the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Martin Gilbert, the official biographer of Winston Churchill, who also wrote histories of many of the signal events of the 20th century, including both world wars, the Holocaust and the Middle East conflict; Raul Hilberg, American political scientist and historian, whose three-volume, 1,273-page magnum opus, The Destruction of the European Jews, is regarded as the seminal study of the Holocaust; Jan Karski, a Polish World War II resistance movement fighter and later professor at Georgetown University; Samantha Power, American academic, author of works on Genocide and Human Rights Studies, and diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations; Yevgeny Yevtushenko, renowned Russian poet, who was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature for his poem "Babi Yar".
The Millersville University conference is the oldest conference on the Holocaust and Genocide in the United
States, which is run by the same institution. The conference was established by the former Chair of the History Department Professor Jack Fischel, whose grandparents and uncle perished during the Holocaust in Poland. He led the conferences for twenty-five years. After his retirement Professor Saulius Suziedelis led the conference, and since 2010 Dr. Victoria Khiterer took over the leadership of the conference.
Each Millersville University conference is devoted to a special theme. The theme of the 35th conference was The Holocaust and Genocide Trials. It was an international conference in which participated 47 scholars from five countries: the United States, Canada, Germany, Great Britain and Israel.
The conference discussed international and national Holocaust and Genocide trials. The conference explored the role of trials in exposing and punishing the crimes of Holocaust and genocide perpetrators and their collaborators, and the influence of trials on the formation of Holocaust and genocide history and memory. The conference also commemorated the 85th anniversary of the Holodomor in Ukraine, the 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, and the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The keynote speaker for the conference were Lawrence Baron, Professor Emeritus of Modern Jewish History, San Diego State University and Lawrence Douglas, James J. Grosfeld Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought, Amherst College.
The conference was opened on Yom HaShoah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day) with commemoration of victims of the Holocaust. Millersville University President Dr. John M. Anderson in his welcoming speech said that the conference’s goal is to disseminate knowledge about the Holocaust and genocides, raise people’s awareness about these crimes against humanity, emphasize the importance of the punishment of the Holocaust and genocide perpetrators and justice, and the danger of racism and anti-Semitism in the Modern World.
Professor Lawrence Baron delivered the first keynote speech, the Aristides de Sousa Mendes Lecture, Kristallnacht on Film: From Reportage to Reenactments, 1938-1948. He showed that in the absence of a cinematic iconography, newsreels, documentaries and feature films employed several approaches to represent the Kristallnacht in the ensuing decade. The directorial choices mirrored the changing national contexts of when and where they were made. Baron analyzed in his speech the movies: Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940), Roy Boulting’s Pastor Hall (1940), the British documentary Mein Kampf: My Crimes (1940), as well as the postwar German and Austrian feature films Seven Journeys (1947) and Third Reich, The Trial (1948).
The Millersville University Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide traditionally holds the Aristides de Sousa Mendes Lecture in the memory of one of the righteous people in the World, who saved the lives of thousands of people. During World War II Aristides de Sousa Mendes was the Portuguese consul-general in the French city of Bordeaux. He issued visas to Portugal and passports for thousands of refugees (many of whom were Jews) in Nazi occupied France. This was against the circulars of the Portuguese dictator Antonio de Salazar, who sympathized with the Nazi regime and banned Jews, Russians and other refugees entrance to the country. Susa Mendes was punished for issuing Portuguese visas for the refugees: he was suspended from his position for “disobeying higher orders during service." Joël Santoni’s feature film "Disobedience: The Sousa Mendes Story" (2009) was shown during the conference opening night.
Professor Lawrence Douglas delivered the second keynote speech at the conference, which was based on his recently published book The Right Wrong Man: John Demjanjuk and the Last Great Nazi War Crimes Trial (Princeton University Press, 2016). In 2009 Lawrence Douglas was sent to Munich by Harper's Magazine to cover the trial of eighty-nine-year-old John Demjanjuk. In 1975 American investigators received evidence alleging that Demjanjuk, who was a naturalized US citizen, participated in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust. Demjanjuk was stripped of his American citizenship and deported to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. He was mistakenly identified as "Ivan the Terrible", a guard at the Treblinka extermination camp in Nazi occupied Poland. The Israeli court verdict was overturned by the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, based on new evidence that cast doubt over the identity of "Ivan the Terrible." Demjanjuk was convicted again in 2011 in Germany: he was found guilty in participation in the murder of 28,060 Jews in the Sobibor extermination camp in Poland, where he served as a guard. The Demjanjuk trial was the last major Holocaust trial in history.
There were 14 sessions of the conference on Nuremberg and other Holocaust and genocide trials in different countries, on the representation of the Holocaust in literature, television and film, about Holocaust memory and education. Special sessions were devoted to the Armenian genocide, the Holodomor (death by famine) in Ukraine in 1932 -1933 and the Warsaw ghetto uprising in 1943. Many Millersville University students and community members attended the conference. The conference made a valuable contribution to Holocaust and Genocide scholarship and emphasized the importance of humanism, tolerance and justice to the entire audience. The proceedings of the conference will be published next year. For further information about the Millersville University Conferences on the Holocaust and Genocide and the previous conference proceedings please see the conference web site: http://www.millersville.edu/holocon/
Victoria Khiterer, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of History,
Director of the Millersville University Conference on the Holocaust and Genocide