Seton Hill University marks Yom HaShoah with two events
"It is vital that Catholics join with our Jewish brothers and sisters to educate the community about the dangers of intolerance and injustice.”
Seton Hill University’s National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education is doubling down on its Yom HaShoah commemoration this year.
Not only is the center marking the occasion with the premiere of a new 20-minute video featuring Holocaust survivor Sam Shear, but it also recently published the book “Holocaust Education Today: Confronting Extremism, Hate and Mass Atrocity Crimes.”
James Paharik, the director of the center, wrote the book forward, which is edited by American nun and Holocaust historian Carol Rittner, and is an outgrowth of the 2021 Ethel LeFrak Holocaust Education Conference, he explained.
“I designed the conference around the theme of growing extremism and how it relates to the Holocaust,” Paharik said. “We asked speakers to write essays based on their presentations. The book is a collection of those essays.”
The essays are grouped into larger categories, including: Holocaust Studies; Antisemitism, Fascism and Hate Crimes; Mass Atrocity Crimes and the Muslim World; and Teachings about the Gardelegen Massacre — a slaughter of more than 1,000 slave laborers perpetrated by the local population of the northern German town near the end of World War II.
Two Seton Hill professors who spoke at the conference are included among the more than 20 contributors to the collection. Emeritus history professor John C. Spurlock penned the essay “Teaching Gardelegen” and Associate Professor of Political Science Roni Kay Marie O’Dell wrote “Refugee and Migrant Rights: A Human Rights Perspective.”
“The book focuses on how we can learn from the Holocaust to help us understand the extremism and hatred we’re seeing around the world today,” Paharik said.
The Holocaust, he explained, is the lens that the book uses to examine not only antisemitism and other types of racism but various forms of hatred and extremism, including violence in Syria and the genocide of the Uyghur people in China.
Seton Hill, Paharik said, regularly publishes books with some connection to the university, unlike larger schools that have a wider focus.
“We’re not that kind of operation,” Paharik said, “but we do publish on a regular basis, and we always publish a book based on the conferences that we hold. That’s a regular feature of what we do.”
On April 16, the university will host its annual Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Day and feature a video with survivor Sam Shear.
Shear will appear in person for the event at 2:30 p.m. at the University’s Cecilian Hall.
“He was in Auschwitz as a young person,” Paharik said. “I didn’t think he’d be able to come … but his son told me that he will, and I’m really excited about that.”
The video is part of the Eva Fleischner Oral History Project, which the center started in 2021. The university, Paharik said, works with WQED’s David H. Cohen and has produced eight 20-minute mini-documentaries recording the story of local Holocaust survivors.
Fleishner, Paharik said, was a Holocaust educator and a member of the center’s advisory board. She died in 2020.
The videos are intended to be used in elementary, middle and high schools.
“We’re working with some schools in our area,” Paharik said. “There’s a school in Latrobe called Christ the Divine Teacher. We’re slowly getting it out to the schools.”
The videos, he said, can be viewed on the National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education YouTube channel.
Other survivors recorded for the series include Moshe Baran, Ruth Drescher, Albert Farhy, Solange Lebovitz, Judah Samet, Irene Skolnick and, soon, Oscar Singer.
Paharik said that battling hate and antisemitism isn’t only a Jewish issue, and he views the fight against extremism as an important one.
“We live in a time of growing antisemitism,” he said. “It is vital that Catholics join with our Jewish brothers and sisters to educate the community about the dangers of intolerance and injustice.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at [email protected]