|Peace through education
Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies passes on lessons of history
By Melanie Supersano
Austrian interns promote Holocaust awareness in Nevada public schools They use their voices to remember the innocent dead, so that none will forget what so few lived to tell. Heinz Boesch and Andreas Feuerstein-Austrian interns at the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies in the College of Arts and Science-have spent the past year teaching middle and high school students and community groups about the Holocaust and preventing genocide. Genocide can start with just a joke, they say. A bad joke that degrades people. Little by little, intolerance grows, discriminatory laws are passed and the hatred explodes in horrendous tragedies such as the Holocaust. “It’s our responsibitity to make sure that it doesn’t happen in the future,” Feuerstein says. Neither Boesch, 26, or Feuerstein, 22, are Jewish, but feel that because Austria, part of Germany during World War II, was as responsible for the Holocaust as Germany, they have a special mission to ensure the seeds of genocide are not planted anew. paid their way from Austria for a compulsory military service.They will soon complete their service and plan to return home-Boesch to earn a degree in international business administration, Feuerstein in political science. Both interrupted studies to come to Reno. “They are idealists,- says Viktoria Hertling, center director, noting that in addition to spending an extra six months in 40-hour-per-week-service, the men must pay all expenses, including airfare, and receive only a small stipend from their government.
The interns have taught some 2,500 Nevada students, including youth at Wittenberg Hall, the facility for juvenile offenders in Washoe County, and several community groups how to identify signs of potential conflict. “I never thought the endeavor would be as far-reaching and widespread,” Hertling says. “Being barely older than the students they are teaching, their message is all the more powerful.” Wooster High student Samantha Moore was among those writing the interns:”My knowledge about the Holocaust has grown because of you two, and now I have a better idea of what happened,” Moore wrote. Another student wrote:”I was shocked that so many Jews were killed.” Teachers appreciation is great, too. Skip Rush, a teacher at Clayton Middle School in Reno, wrote Hertling about Boesch and Feuerstein: “Their presentation should be made to all of the middle school students in Washoe County. I’m very proud of these two young men and I know you are as well.They are a credit to the center, the university and, most importantly, their country.”
The ghastly story Boesch and Feuerstein have told over and over comes from exacting research: “In March, 1938, Austria was annexed to Germany, and immediately the persecution of the Jewish people began in many forms,” Feuerstein says.”Within the first year, 26,000 Jewish businesses in Austria were either shut down or given to German owners.” Anti-Semitism was common prior to the Nazi regime, the interns explain.”It had a long tradition”, Boesch says.Yet Austria’s emperor granted Jews equal rights in 1867, and Austria experienced a rich cultural and social life centered in Vienna between the end of the 19th century and the “Anschluss”-annexation by Germany-in 1938. The National Socialist Workers’Party targeted more than Jews. “They also slaughtered Gypsies,jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, communists, the physically and mentally disabled, and so-called’anti- social’people-in other words, the homeless,” Feuerstein says. “In the summer of ’41, Nazi Germany attacked Russia,” continues Boesch. “There, they rounded people up and drove them to forests, canyons, fields … sometimes they had them dig their own graves first … and shot them. Sometimes they would take them away in trucks and tell them they were giving them a break to go to the toilet. Then they would be shot.The order was to kill them. Suspicion of being Jewish was enough. No proof was needed. If someone accused you of being Jewish, you had to prove you were not by doing ancestral research.You had to prove that your grandparents were members of a non- Jewish religious organization.” Four mobile killing squads, each consisting of 1,000-plus soldiers, were deployed to exterminate unwanted populations. “They killed about a half- million people within less than a year,” Boesch says. “The Final Solution”-the extermina- tion of all Jews in Europe-was announced Jan. 20,1942, at the Wannsee Conference in Berlin. “The Nazis realized that they could not kill enough people. The killing squads were not’efficient’,” Boesch notes. Some of the soldiers couldn’t stand it. “They were going insane from killing people all day.” At the camps, whose names still inspire terror-Dachau, Buchenwald, Auschwitz-Birkenau-the Nazis forced the inmates to get rid of the bodies and sort the clothes, so the German soldiers didn’t have to. “We have heard a story about a daughter, for example, finding her mother’s dress as she sorted the clothes,” Boesch says. Between 1938 and 1945, Hitler’s Third Reich murdered 6 million Jews and an additional 5 million civilians, not including military casualities. The 11 million innocent victims’only “crime” was being a vulnerable minority or opposing a fanatical regime. How can such an atrocity happen? “People don’t just wake up in the morning and start killing each other,” Feuerstein says. “We want to show especially the young people of this community the early-warning signs and let them know that they’ve got to speak up and do something immediately and not wait until the killing starts.”
Boesch and Feuerstein enjoyed their time in the United States. They have met many who have been inspired and many who share their ideals-to make the world a better place. They are the first Gedenkdienst intems to serve at Nevada, but not the last. Martin Heim and Michael Feuerstein are arriving this fall. Among many sites worldwide, Gedenkdienst intems work at the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Shoah Foundation in Los Angeles. Hertling’s outreach program to schools through a university center is the first of its kind among Gedenkdienst programs worldwide. – Melanie Supersano is a newswriter in the Office of Communications. Fotosubtext: History-minded: Andres Feuerstein (left) and Heinz Boesch paid their way from Austria for a humanistic mission – educating students about national hatred.
Box: “Austria accepts her responsibility arising out of the tragic history of the 20th century and the horrendous crimes of the National Socialist regime. Our country is facing up to the light and dark sides of its past and to the deeds of all Austrians, good and evil, as its responsibility. Nationalism, dictatorship and intolerance brought war, xenophobia, bondage, racism and mass murder. The singularity of the crimes of the Holocaust which are without precedent in history are an exhortitation to permanent alertness against allf orms of dictatorship and totalitarianism.” – Excerpt from the Austrian government declaration, Feb.3,2000 –
Box: Interdisciplinary minor program in Holocaust, Genocide and Peace Studies offered A 19-credit minor program in Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies is offered through the collaboration of several departments across the university under the direction of the Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies. The board of directors of the center is composed of prominent Nevada faculty members and community leaders. The minor program in HGPS is designed to connect ideas and experiences by focusing on social, historical, philosophical, political, cultural and ethical issues in a wide variety of disciplines.
FOR MORE INFORMATION Contact: Viktoria Hertling, director Telephone: (775) 784-6767 Fax: (775) 784-661 1 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org Mail: Center for Holocaust, Genocide & Peace Studies, mailstop 402, University of Nevada, Reno, NV, 89557