Hall of Names at Yad Vashem; photo: David Shankbone

That sentence stopped me in my tracks.

At last week’s 10th Biennial International Holocaust Studies Conference at Middle Tennessee State University, Steven Leonard Jacobs, uttered those words.

The Jewish studies professor from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa also said: 

“There were 150 members of my family murdered between 1939 and 1945. My father was one of seven survivors. All seven are now deceased. But growing up, I knew my family was different somehow. We weren’t like other families. I grew up with dead relatives. When I would tell stories about playing with friends, my father would say, ‘Oh, that reminds me of my cousin who was killed by the Nazis.’”

Imagine your own mother or father doing that? I’m sure it would become tiresome, if not downright depressing. I’ve spoken with other offspring of survivors who tell similar stories. Perhaps some children would be inclined to stop sharing playground anecdotes with their survivor parents simply to avoid hearing about dead relatives, but Prof. Jacobs seems to have gone in the opposite direction by becoming a professor who specializes in Holocaust studies. He seems to have come to it with great passion and vigor, and I applaud that.

“All of us,” he said, “the second and third and fourth generations of parents who survived this terrible thing, represent a bridge over Hitler. When I was born, my dad said I was the victory. The Nazis didn’t defeat us.”

Indeed, every child and grandchild and great-grandchild and so on down the line is a triumph over Hitler. My husband and children included.

One of the goal’s of this biennial conference is to give middle- and high-school educators the tools they need to teach Holocaust curriculum.

According to the article in The Tennessean, Prof. Jacobs told the teachers that it is not their job to provide answers but to “have a solid knowledge base about the subject and to wrestle with the question: Are there lessons we can learn from it today?”

I, for one, appreciated that question he posed because I can only hear, “We must keep it from happening again,” so many times. Of course, we don’t want mass genocide to ever happen again, but it’s said so often that it’s become trite and I feel almost deaf to it now. Hopefully these new educators will bring some new thoughts and words, and in turn, their students will also breathe new life into Holocaust studies.

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