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Student Wins Auschwitz Study Fellowship

Student Wins Auschwitz Study Fellowship

UC Riverside Ph.D. student Jennifer Weed will conduct research related to the Holocaust.

(June 15, 2011)

Jennifer Weed

Jennifer Weed

RIVERSIDE, Calif. – Jennifer Weed, a Ph.D. student at the University of California, Riverside, is one of 10 graduate students selected nationally to study the Auschwitz concentration camp, Poland's Jewish heritage and the implications of the Holocaust.

The three-week trip to Poland is a project of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellows Program, which is operated by the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation. The center is operated by the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York City.

Weed, a resident of Victorville, Calif., plans to focus her dissertation research on the coping strategies and living conditions of the Jewish crematorium workers of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Her research may expand to include the concentration camps of Sobibor, Treblinka, Majdanek or Belzec.

Fellows will leave June 29 for Poland where they will visit Krakow, Warsaw, Oswiecim (Auschwitz) and Lodz. They will explore the Jewish heritage of southeast Poland and meet with local leaders to learn about Jewish life before the war, life under the Nazi occupation and communism, and the status of the Jewish community today. Fellows also will attend a program at the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum where they will tour the camps, study the history of Jewish, Roma and Polish inmates, and learn how to use the museum’s resources.

Weed previously was selected to participate in a two-week seminar at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, where she reviewed documents from the recently opened International Tracing Service archive in Bad Arolsen, Germany.

While the Holocaust is justifiably the precedent by which modern atrocity is judged, the tendency to view it as an aberration of human behavior may have unintended and substantial consequences, she said.

“Nazi death camps are often conceptualized as islands of horror which are completely detached from the world in which they are situated,” she said. “Auschwitz, in particular, exemplifies this disconnect in that the camp itself is never associated with the Polish town of Oswiecim in which it is situated. This allows the site itself to take on an aura of surreality and hyperreality, obscuring the fact that the horror which took place there was conceived of and carried out by modern humans.

“To strip away the mythological aura of Auschwitz is to look industrialized mass murder in the face and see ourselves – a very disconcerting situation indeed. However, without this bare honesty, the attempts made to memorialize, analyze and educate about the events and people of the Holocaust are seriously undermined by distortion, and this tragic past is easily reduced to a commodity which can be bought and sold with relative impunity.”

That distortion removes the Holocaust from the range of possible human behaviors, “leaving societies open to committing and/or accepting similar acts of violence and genocide because the Holocaust becomes, in effect, an event that seems decidedly unreal and thus unlikely to reoccur.”


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