KNOXVILLE — Scholars, teachers, students and survivors will gather at the University of Tennessee April 1-3 for a conference commemorating the Holocaust and exploring the nature of prejudice and hatred.
The conference, which is open and free to the public, will feature Yaffa Eliach, a pioneering scholar of Holocaust studies, Morris Dees, executive director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Leon Bass, an African American veteran of World War II who was a liberator at the Buchenwald concentration camp.
The Holocaust was the systematic slaughter of about six million Jews and another six million people by the Nazi government of Germany during World War II.
“We’re charged with remembering the human tragedies of the Holocaust and teaching them to our children so that future generations can guard against a repetition of such heinous crimes,” said Dr. Gilya Schmidt, UT professor of religious studies, who organized the special event.
The conference, titled “Lost But Not Forgotten: ‘Our Town’ — Artistic Retrievals of Holocaust Communities,” will focus on recapturing the daily life of Jewish communities that disappeared during Nazi efforts to exterminate the Jewish population of Europe.
A featured exhibit, “Remembering Luboml: Images of a Jewish Community,” will be displayed at the University Center March 26 – April 19. Luboml was a Ukrainian-Polish market town with an overwhelmingly Jewish population. Of more than 8,000 Jews in the town and its environs, only 51 survived the Holocaust.
“We want to retrieve the beauty of the communities lost, communities in many ways like our own, with customs and traditions handed down from generation to generation,” Schmidt said. “We hold the very same things dear that Holocaust survivors lost, but we take them for granted.
“We can’t take our homes and communities for granted, because the same irrational hatred can strike any time, anywhere.”
The conference will open at 2:45 p.m. April 1 with a performance by the Tennessee Children’s Dance Ensemble and students in the magnet performing arts programs at Austin-East High and Vine Middle schools.
The conference coincides with the publication of “A Separate Circle: Jewish Life in Knoxville, Tennessee.” Knoxville writer Wendy Lowe Besmann wrote the history, which is being published by UT Press. One of the concluding panels co-chaired by Besmann and Barbara Bernstein will discuss the Jewish experience in East Tennessee.
The University of Tennessee, the Tennessee Holocaust Commission, the Knoxville Jewish Federation and numerous community groups and individuals are sponsoring events.
A complete list of presentations, panels and related exhibits and events is available on the Web at http://sunsite.utk.edu/holocaust/ or by contacting the UT Department of Religious Studies at (865) 974-2466.