Conference Report: Third Annual Powell and Heller Family Conference on Holocaust Education

ACCH Quarterly Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2010

Conference Report: Third Annual Powell and Heller Family Conference on Holocaust Education, March 18-20, 2010, Pacific Lutheran University Tacoma, WA.

By Robert P. Ericksen, Pacific Lutheran University

On March 18-20, 2010, Robert Ericksen, Kurt Mayer Chair in Holocaust Studies at Pacific Lutheran University, hosted the Third Annual Powell and Heller Family Conference on Holocaust Education. This program grows out of generous gifts from the Mayer, Powell, and Heller families which have made possible an endowed chair as well as this annual conference.

The sessions began on March 18 with a lecture by Christopher Browning. He spoke on “Holocaust History and Survivor Testimony: Challenges, Limitations, and Opportunities,” based upon his research for his most recent book, Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp. Browning gave a nuanced analysis of the benefits and difficulties in using survivor testimony. While he discussed in detail various aspects of survivor testimony which must be considered by historians, he also concluded with the thought that it is not the obligation of survivors to give testimony which matches our expectations.

Friday’s sessions began with two presentations by Holocaust survivors. Philip Waagner, who is a member of the Speakers Bureau of the Washington State Holocaust Education Resource Center (Seattle), described his remarkable experiences as a child survivor in Holland. Sarah Tamir also described her childhood experiences, as well as the Holocaust memory activities now undertaken by the large survivors’ community in her home of Melbourne. The afternoon session began with a presentation by Sara Horowitz, Director of the Centre for Jewish Studies at York University, speaking on her latest project, “Gender, Genocide, and Jewish Memory.” Professors Lisa Marcus, Rona Kaufmann, and Jennifer Jenkins, all of PLU, spoke on “Jewish Literacies and the Holocaust;” and Tomaz Jardim, a recent Ph.D. from the University of Toronto, spoke on “Ambiguous Justice: The Mauthausen SS Before American Military Commission Courts.” Friday ended with the announcement of two student winners of the Raphael Lemkin Student Essay Contest at PLU, highlighted by James Waller speaking on the themes within his important book, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Mass Murder and Genocide.

Saturday’s session focused on the theme of bystanders. First, Carl Wilkens described his experience of the Rwandan Genocide. As the only American who stayed in Rwanda throughout the violence, he took great risk but survived without harm and was able to intervene successfully in several situations. Victoria Barnett then continued our discussion of bystanders, with recent reflections on her book, Bystanders: Conscience and Complicity during the Holocaust. John Roth responded to her presentation in a session chaired by John Conway. Throughout this day, students and others in attendance were inspired to consider the importance of their own response to injustice and also the potential for brave individuals actually to make an impact.

The next PLU Holocaust Conference will take place March 17-19, 2011. Interested persons are invited to contact Robert Ericksen ( with inquiries or suggestions.