Over the course of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, 23 educators, a JFR board member and the JFR Education Department met for the 2011 Advanced Seminar at the Newark Airport Hilton, where we studied, learned and discussed this year’s theme “Youth and the Third Reich” with five outstanding scholars. Each scholar presented a sub-topic of this theme in great depth and helped participants come away with a profound understanding of the subject.
We began the seminar with Professor Robert Jan van Pelt, who discussed with us the idea of Germany as a young nation, an idea that rose at the beginning of the twentieth century. Robert Jan’s eye-opening discussion conveyed that it was the ideas associated with this youth movement that later propelled National Socialism.
We also welcomed Alexandra Zapruder, who lead a discussion about her book Salvaged Pages, a compendium that contains the diaries of young people who lived through the Holocaust. She also played for teachers the recent film adaptation of her book, I’m Still Here. Alexandra’s work is particularly valuable for teachers, who can use these two resources as teaching tools.
We also learned about the Nazification of the banking industry from Princeton’s Dr. Harold James, as a continuation from last year’s Advanced Seminar. Using one case study of a Jewish banker, Professor James illuminated for us how, gradually, Germany’s banks became impacted and altered by the Third Reich.
We also had the pleasure of hosting an international guest scholar, Professor Thomas Weber from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. Dr. Weber discussed with us his fascinating new book, Hitler’s First War, which addresses Hitler’s time in the German army during World War I, and how this experience influenced him greatly. This discussion tied into the theme of “Youth in the Third Reich”, which Professor James discussed in a second lecture, because Hitler was a part of the young generation, the World War I generation that, we learned, wanted so badly to have a new Germany rise out of the ashes of the old one.
We ended the seminar with Dr. Debórah Dwork, who led a Socratic discussion about her book Children with a Star, which is a cornerstone in Holocaust studies for understanding the child experience during the Holocaust. Participants addressed themes and ideas in the book and also asked her specific questions about choices she made when writing the book.
Each year the Advanced Seminar is held on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend because teaching about the lessons of the Holocaust is aligned with Dr. King’s vision. Our teachers come to the Advanced Seminar in order to better educate their students about tolerance and what can happen if hate goes unchecked. The JFR feels that these lessons are in the same spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy. As we learned about this difficult history, we remembered him and the impact he had on making humanity more tolerant.