September 18th: Rabbi Joseph Polak in conversation with Hank Knight

As few adult survivors of the Holocaust remain alive today, our attention shifts to child survivors who, in their life and work, attest to a traumatic past they experienced as children or infants. Their tales provide a window into the difficult aftermath of the trauma of persecution and genocide. Rabbi Polak is the author of a harrowing account of his family’s deportation from the Netherlands to the Nazi concentration camp at Westerbork and spoke to the difficulties of living with traumatic early childhood memories. Rabbi Polak also shared of what he learned over many years of friendship with Professor Wiesel. He was interviewed by Dr. Henry Knight, Professor Emeritus of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College in New Hampshire.

About the Speaker: Rabbi Joseph Polak is the author of After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring(2015). He is an Adjunct Assistant Professor of Health Law, Ethics & Human Rights at Boston University School of Public Health and rabbi emeritus of the Hillel House at Boston University. R. Polak also serves as Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court of Massachusetts.

Reflections on the evening from EWCJS Director Michael Zank on the EWCJS Blog.

October 28: Sharon Portnoff “Primo Levi: Testimony of an Auschwitz Survivor”

Primo Levi’s Is This a Man was one of the first memoirs of an Auschwitz survivor to reach a global readership. The book remains relevant because of the profound question Levi asks in light of the hell of Auschwitz: what does it means to be a human being? Prof. Portnoff’s lecture explores the echoes of Dante’s Inferno in Primo Levi’s writing.

About the Speaker: Sharon Portnoff is the Elie Wiesel Associate Professor of Judaic Studies at Connecticut College, where she directs the Jewish Studies program. Professor Portnoff is a specialist in philosophical and literary responses to the Holocaust, especially the work of German-born Jewish philosopher Emil Fackenheim and the writings of the Italian chemist and Auschwitz-survivor Primo Levi. The working title of her forthcoming publication is War and Memory: Virgil, Dante, Levi and the Western Canonical Tradition.

Listen to WBUR’s recording of this lecture:

November 18: Loung Ung “First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers”.

photo of loung ungAmerican-Cambodian human rights activist Loung Ung concluded the Elie Wiesel Memorial lecture series on Monday, November 18. From 1975 to 1979, 1.7 to 2 million Cambodians, a quarter of the country’s population, died under the Khmer Rouge regime. One of seven children of a high-ranking governmental official, Loung Ung was only five when the soldiers stormed into her city, forcing Loung’s family to flee and, eventually, to disperse. Orphaned, separated from her siblings, Loung was trained as a child soldier in a work camp for orphans where she was taught to hurt and hate. Harrowing, yet hopeful, Loung’s powerful story is an unforgettable account of a family shaken and shattered, yet miraculously sustained by courage and love in the face of unspeakable brutality. From an innocent chatty girl to a silent child soldier to a bewildered refugee in America, Loung Ung shows that your past does not have to predetermine your future. Through her work, writing and activism, Loung shares how she was able to reclaim her voice, redeem herself, and help many others learn of their own stories.

About the Speaker:

LOUNG UNG is a bestselling author, activist, and co-screenplay writer of First They Killed My Father, the critically acclaimed 2017 Netflix Original Movie produced and directed by Angelina Jolie, based on her memoir, now streaming on Netflix in 190 countries. The film received the “Hollywood Foreign Language Film Award” at the Hollywood Film Awards in 2017.