Holocaust Symposium to provide rare and important opportunities

Marie Jeruc

For the first time in its history, Lawrence University will host a Holocaust Symposium entitled “Austrian Jews: Exile and the Holocaust” during the weekend of May 11-13. The symposium will feature discussion sessions with Austrian Jews who experienced the Holocaust, among many other events that will feature the events of this era through a multitude of artistic mediums. Events will be held in the Warch Campus Center, Harper Hall and Wriston Art Gallery.

Organized by Professor of Music and Chair of Keyboard Catherine Kautsky, the symposium’s purpose is to bring awareness to the particular historical experiences of Austrian Jews, especially through artistic mediums.

Said Kautsky, “There’s an immediacy in using the arts to convey what went on,” an immediacy that is prompted by the limited amount of time left to hear stories and experiences directly from Holocaust survivors.

Attendees will have the unique opportunity to attend a rare, or possibly single, experience of hearing survivors tell their stories and being able to talk to them afterwards during a question and reception session.

The Austrian Jews who will share their stories have extremely varied situations and involvement with World War II in Austria.

For example, Curtis Brown, a native of Vienna, Austria, survived for two and a half years in a Hungarian labor camp, from which he escaped to Czechoslovakian territory, which was still occupied by Germany at the time.

Brown, now living in Neenah, WI, spent over 30 years teaching at Lawrence’s former graduate engineering school, The Institute of Paper Chemistry (now a part of Georgia Tech), as an associate professor on the general science faculty.

Said Brown, “I like to interact with today’s generation in general, with alert students in particular.” Additionally, he noted the importance of communication, a theme that inspires many of the symposium’s events.

“The value of any form of communication, to students or other interested parties, whether in the arts, humanities or other media, must rest with the recipients. You only get as much out of a presentation as you are willing to absorb and digest,” said Brown.

The symposium weekend will provide a varied program that will allow attendees many opportunities to absorb the gravity and complexity of the Holocaust.

Kautsky finds an important role for artistic mediums in this type of event, which features deeply emotional and dramatic subject matter. She noted that “seeing the art, hearing the music…it’s not intellectualized, it’s not like listening to a lecture.” In fact, Kautsky “we purposely avoided having lots of lectures.”

Instead of lectures, the symposium will feature a wide variety of mediums to express the complexity of emotion that accompanies the events of this historical period.

One of the final events of the weekend will feature staged excerpts from an opera that was written in a concentration camp. Its creator, Victor Ullmann, wrote “Der Kaiser von Atlantis” while he was a prisoner in Theresianstadt in Czechoslovakia.

Prior to this work, attendees will be able to immerse themselves in the many multi-disciplinary events that will address different aspects of Holocaust-related topics.

Lawrence professors will read letters from Austria, German choreographer Kurt Jooss will discuss his dance theatre work and pre-war art from Austria and Germany will be on display in the Wriston Art Gallery.

Additionally, there will be two preview screenings of Käthe Kratz’s documentary, “Abschied ein Leben lang” (A Life-Long Farewell), which actually features Brown and served as an important influence for his involvement in the symposium.

With the variety and rarity of experiences available at the symposium, junior Camilla Grove, Lawrence University Hillel Chapter Leader, encouraged that “Lawrentians should really take hold of this rare experience.”  

Even though our society is far removed from the actual events and immediate aftermath of the Holocaust, its lessons still resonate throughout the world today. Said Kautsky, “Mankind is capable of enormous destructiveness. It seems to somehow relish destroying people it perceives as different…and so the relevance of this to our world today is enormous…its not just about dead history.”

For more information, please visit www.lawrence.edu/holocaust