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Guest professor from UVM speaks about the Holocaust

By Anita Kotowicz

Contributing writter

People both young and old gathered in Murkland Hall Tuesday night to learn about the historical events that led up to what is arguably one of the most disastrous yet significant events in history. 

Alan E. Steinweis, the Leonard and Carolyn Miller distinguished professor of holocaust studies and director of the program at the University of Vermont prefaced the lecture with a short biography about Hans Heilbronner, a Jewish German who was able to flee Germany along with his family. They immigrated to England on Aug. 31, 1939, just a day before World War II broke out.

“It’s not the brightest part of German History,” said Sherman Spears, a current UNH student, in reference to the Holocaust and the events leading up to it.

Spears attended the lecture with an interest in German history, only to leave the lecture with a passion for it.

“It’s an intriguing and bloody part of my heritage’s history,” said Kai Rodriguez, a UNH student whose family also left Germany before World War II. Rodriguez talked about how he could relate Heilbronner’s story to his grandparent’s upbringing.

After the introduction, the audience was informed of an assassination attempt against Hitler that took place on Nov. 8 1939, almost exactly a year after the main event that preceded the Holocaust. If it weren’t for a last minute change in Hitler’s schedule, he would have surely died. 

“Progress is irreversible,” said Steinweis when informing everyone in the room about the assassination of the German diplomat Ernst vom Rath on Nov. 7, 1938. This event was what provoked the Kristallnacht, also known as Novemberpogrome.

The Kristallnacht, German for ‘Crystal Night’, got its name from the enormous number of glass windows broken throughout the night of Nov. 9 1938. The riots that happened over the next few days “marked a significant departure from previous practices” and “signaled the death bell of Jewish life in Germany,” according to Steinweis. Such an uncivilized act was shocking to everyone not only because of its messy aftermath but because Germany was known for being a quite civil country despite the war taking place.

Alan E. Steinweis went on to inform everyone attending about how the cathartic outpouring known as the Kristallnacht was an unplanned introduction to the Holocaust. However, many individuals believe that the riots were planned. Steinweis continued the lecture with explainations as to why individuals didn’t believe the riot was an impromptu event. Despite their doubts and valid reasons for said doubts, there are many memoirs and legal testimonies that prove the spontaneity of the event.

The lecture was brought to a close with a short Q and A session. Many individuals raised their hands in hopes of getting their questions answered before Steinweis had to leave the event. He ended up staying afterwards as most of the attendees left the hall, in order to answer the burning questions of both college students and older individuals.

This lecture series is in sponsored by the Department of History, College of Liberal Arts, and the Endowed Fund for Holocaust Education in memory of Hans Heilbronner whom served UNH from 1954 to 1991. More information can be found on the UNH’s Department of History website.

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