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Muslims, Christians and Jews together ponder lessons of the Shoah

By Jeanette Friedman

Jeanette Friedman

PHILADELPHIA–They came in early spring, like migrating birds from every corner of the world—more than 200 professors and clergymen, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists and even atheists and agnostics—to discuss and study the Holocaust and to celebrate and honor the work of the late Rev. Franklin Littell at St. Joseph’s College in Philadelphia. They came from as far away as Russia, Bosnia, Israel, France, England, and from across America—California, New York, New Hampshire and Florida. Sponsored by St. Joseph’s, Stockton State College in New Jersey and Temple University, the Conference was founded 40 years ago by Rev. Littell and Dr. Hubert G. Locke, who have been at the leading edge in presenting the latest research in Holocaust and Genocide Studies to the rest of us.

Among the presenters were Dr. Michael Berenbaum, founding director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum; theologian Dr. Richard L. Rubenstein, University of Bridgeport; premier Holocaust educator Samuel Totten, the Chambon Foundation’s Pierre Sauvage,  and Holocaust studies pioneers Father John Pawlikowski and Rabbi Irving Greenberg, all of whom paid tribute to Rev. Littell, who died on May 30, 2009.  This was the first conference to take place without him.

The conference was founded in 1970 to create an academic forum for the exchange of information and ideas about the Holocaust between scholars, researchers and educational pioneers; to promote an interfaith, international, interdisciplinary, rigorous intellectual tradition; to encourage continued research on church responses to the Holocaust and the destruction of European Jewry while encouraging and deepening interfaith discussions; to use the Holocaust to determine early warning signs of genocide and to get the information to others through review, editing and publication.

The opening evening was a memorial to Rev. Littell. A poignant 28-minute documentary about Littell was produced and presented by Dr. Sauvage, and earned unanimous acclaim. It was clear from the film, which consisted of clips from the Reverend’s own presentations and one-on-one interviews, that his philosophy of church responsibility in response to the Holocaust, his views of the need for Holocaust education, his passion and his teachings have had a deep impact on the way the Holocaust is taught today in middle schools and high schools. He has also influenced how research and Holocaust and Genocide studies are pursued on the university level.

The opening plenary session was devoted to the “Unfinished Agenda,” outlining the work that must still be done. Breakout sessions covered the lack of safe haven for Jews who attempted to leave Europe; contemporary theology; issues in teaching the Holocaust in primary schools; ethics after Auschwitz; uses of the law; contemporary antisemitism; the use of memoirs; the arts; Peter Bergson; the healing professions during the Holocaust; resistance; the churches’ response to the Holocaust; other genocides; and most interestingly, a Jewish-Christian-Muslim trialogue with participants Leonard Grob of Fairleigh Dickinson University, Henry F. Knight of Keene College, Rochelle L. Millen of Wittenberg University and Khaleel Mohammed of San Diego State University.

As noted by Dr. Marcia Littell, in addition to academicians, participants included survivors, descendants of survivors, community leaders, interfaith clergy and undergraduate and graduate students. In a parallel session, The Teachers’ Institute presented a seminar for high school teachers on Integrating Themes of Rescue and Resistance into the Teaching of the Holocaust and other Genocides.

Those who spoke most movingly during tributes to Rev. Franklin Littell were his devoted widow, Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell; Rabbi Irving Greenberg, one of the first leaders in the Jewish community to begin the movement to remember with his organization, Zachor, and Dr. Elisabeth Maxwell of Remembering for the Future, who is currently working on a searchable survivor testimony database—a central on-line directory of all the testimonies in existing collections.

The Conference’s executive director is Dr. Marcia Sachs Littell of Stockton State College’s Department of Holocaust and Genocide Studies. Dr. Hubert G. Locke is the conference chairman. Honorary Chairman is Prof. Elie Wiesel and the major benefactor is Holocaust survivor Felix Zandman, who, with his wife, Ruta, was presented with the Eternal Flame Award.

Friedman is bureau chief in the greater New York City area for San Diego Jewish World.

  1. June 15, 2010 at 2:11 pm

    You’ve done it once again. Incredible writing.

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