Professor of Religious Studies Michael Dobkowski co-authored a guest essay that recently appeared in the Democrat and Chronicle. The piece recalled the trip to Germany and Poland the authors had just completed with students from Nazareth College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges called “The March: Bearing Witness to Hope.” The trip was a weeklong study mission exploring the Holocaust.
“The trip was intended to teach students of all religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds about the dangers of intolerance and to promote greater understanding among diverse groups,” explains the article, adding it “…was a difficult, emotional but transformative experience for all the participants.”
A member of the faculty since 1976, Dobkowski is an expert on genocide, terrorism and the Holocaust. He holds a bachelor’s, a master’s and his doctoral degrees from New York University. A prolific writer, he has written “The Tarnished Dream: The Basis of American Anti-Semitism,” “The Politics of Indifference: Documentary History of Holocaust Victims in America,” “Jewish American Voluntary Organizations” and, in 2006, he co-authored “Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear States & Terrorism.” He has co-written other volumes on the Holocaust and genocide, and also co-wrote “The Nuclear Predicament: Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century.” His book “On the Edge of Scarcity” (co-written with Isador Wallimann) was released in 2001.
He has participated four times in the Goldner Holocaust Symposium at Wroxton College in England, most recently in 2006; and was a Fellow at the Institute for the Teaching of the Post-Biblical Foundations of Western Civilization at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He received the New York University Ferdinand Czernin Prize in History and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
The full article follows.
Democrat and Chronicle
Confronting power of evil
Daan Braveman, Lynne Boucher, Michael Dobkowski • Guest essayists • July 3, 2010
With 36 students from Nazareth College and Hobart and William Smith Colleges, and eight community members, we recently returned from The March: Bearing Witness to Hope trip to Germany and Poland, a weeklong study mission to explore the history of the Holocaust and its implications for the future.
The trip was intended to teach students of all religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds about the dangers of intolerance and to promote greater understanding among diverse groups.
It was a difficult, emotional but transformative experience for all the participants. The Holocaust does not lend itself to easy explanation. How could Europe’s most cultured people have devised the most efficient mass murder operation in history?
How could “ordinary” people have so willingly participated in genocide? In a quest for an elusive understanding, it certainly helps to go back to those places that were once sites of great creativity and life but were transformed into a “kingdom of night.”
We walked through the elegant villa at Wannsee near Berlin where decisions were made that sealed the fate of millions. We viewed the artifacts of genocide and walked near the ashes of the millions murdered in Auschwitz-Birkenau, Majdanek, Treblinka, the Warsaw Ghetto, each a place of indescribable evil.
We stood in the halls of rooms that still hold the possessions of the victims – heaps of suitcases, piles of toothbrushes and combs, mounds of hair, piles of cooking utensils, dolls and toys – and realized that for the Nazis, human lives were less valuable than objects.
We were struck by the piercing silences of those places. Yet, they can teach if we are attentive and open. They call out to us and ask that we witness and accept our responsibility of living in a post-Holocaust world.
The sites drew us in and forced us to confront the power of evil. Yet we also heard the remarkable stories of the survivors who accompanied us and who freely shared their experiences of loss and suffering as well as their efforts to rebuild lives of purpose and dignity.
This was a march about memory, but it was also a journey about hope, and we saw in our students great reason for that hope. They were transformed and energized by what they observed and internalized. They learned that individuals can and need to make a difference.
Why visit those sites? To the extent that we are indifferent to the tragedies of the past, we will be indifferent to the tragedies of the present. Since the Holocaust there has been no shortage of genocides in other areas.
Our students and community participants left Poland with a profound understanding of the dangers of being a bystander and remaining silent in the face of prejudice and hatred.
Their personal interactions with the landscape of genocide have challenged and empowered them to apply its universal lessons to issues of prejudice and intolerance on our campuses, in our cities and throughout our country and beyond.
Braveman is president, Nazareth College; Boucher is director, Center for Spirituality at Nazareth; Dobkowski is professor of religious studies, Hobart and William Smith Colleges.