In the summer of 2017, World War II veteran, Roy Long, was to receive an honorary Doctor of Education at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. Roy, then 95, had spent many years speaking at schools to tell of his service and his unit’s participation in the liberation of the Ohrdruf concentration camp. During the ceremony, news arrived about the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Far-right groups including self-identified members of the alt-right, neo-Nazis, neo-fascists and other white-nationalists were gathered, ultimately leading to violence and the death of Heather Heyer.
The Chancellor of the University of Nebraska was highlighting the selfless acts of an American Serviceman during World War II in the face of Nazi destruction who had devoted his life to education and humanitarianism. Several states away, hatred was filling the streets of Charlottesville and elsewhere. The actualization of these two events coinciding ignited the notion of preserving local stories that have a reach far beyond community and state lines. Integrating personal narrative and historical evidence in a single location could be a powerful way to preserve the Nebraska survivors’ and veterans’ legacy as we strive to be more demonstrative global citizens.
Independent of the Holocaust survivor story, enduring historical ramifications regarding racism and antisemitism associated with being Jewish in white America often lies below the surface. Goldstein (2006) discusses how “Jews negotiated their place in a complex racial world where Jewishness, whiteness, and blackness have all made significant claims on them…the nuances, and the competing identities that never quite disappeared, have remained a central part of the story” (5). Despite acceptance and tolerance, antisemitism still unabashedly exists and is not only promoted among virulent, radical white supremacist groups but is also displayed within social media and public discourse of all kinds. This site provides insight into the lives of those who withstood humanity’s unthinkable destruction while finding the inner strength to move forward and start anew.
This introductory prototype of five highlighted individuals provides the framework for an expanded collection of stories. Preparing the materials involves extensive research, transcription, and implementation. We are honored to bring this first phase of the project to the public and anticipate many additions in the future.
Bearing witness through digital access allows the user the privilege of understanding how injustice and hate affected one individual yet provides a broader awareness of the historic tragedy. Discovery of searchable transcripts, weblogs, or other digital humanities resources, such as interactive maps that include annotations about history, economics, or politics, defines inquiry into the geopolitical nature of historical acts of genocide while also providing platforms for student activism and action (Manfra and Stoddard 2008). In other words, the digital humanities provide the space to formulate a collaboration of cross-disciplinary study to bring social science research material to a new level through digital resources (Burdick et al. 2012). Digital Humanities provides new research tools allowing for a multitude of options for learning about memory and Holocaust history. These tools give new meaning to the way we encounter data or artifacts, and they "become objects of humanistic scholarship due to their vibrant presence in history or literature" (Gardiner and Musto 2015, 44).
Today more than ever, digital access to materials related to the Holocaust and Holocaust studies provides avenues of discovery and research that were previously not imagined. Recognizing the challenge of maintaining the integrity of the individuals and context of that material is paramount. This portal reveals both an intimate exploration into our featured individuals' lives and a public perspective to acknowledge their contributions as community members.
A relatively new field, Holocaust education and its pedagogy has evolved over the past 40 years. Whereas teaching about the Holocaust started as an educators’ grassroots movement (Fallace, 2008), a plethora of material has emerged within various disciplines such as history, sociology, psychology, literature, and social studies in the postmodernist period. We must consider how this history of political upheaval and genocide resonates with students through well-established and sustainable educational materials, while being expedient in providing accuracy, avoiding comparisons, and acknowledging the power of memory in its delivery (Boix-Mansilla 2000; Kansteiner 2017; Totten et al. 2004).
Boix-Mansilla, Veronica. "Historical Understanding: Beyond the Past and into the Present." Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History: National and International Perspectives, edited by Peter N. Stearns, Peter Seixas, and Sam Wineburg, 390–418. New York: New York University Press, 2000.
Burdick, Anne, Johanna Drucker, Peter Lunenfeld, Todd Presner, and Jeffrey Schnapp. Digital Humanities. Cambridge: MIT Press, 2012.
Fallace, Thomas D. The Emergence of Holocaust Education in American Schools. New York: Palgrave Macmillian, 2008.
Gardiner, Eileen, and Ronald G. Musto. The Digital Humanities: A Primer for Students and Scholars. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015.
Goldstein, Eric L. The Price of Whiteness: Jews, Race, and American Identity. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2006.
Kansteiner, Wulf."Transnational Holocaust Memory, Digital Culture and the End of Reception Studies." European Studies, 2017. 34: 305–343.
Manfra, Meghan McGlinn and Jeremy D. Stoddard. "Powerful and Authentic Digital Media and Strategies for Teaching about Genocide and the Holocaust." The Social Studies 99, no. 6 (November 2008): 260–264. https://doi.org/10.3200/TSSS.99.6.260-264
Totten, Samuel, Paul R. Bartrop, and Steven L. Jacobs. Teaching about the Holocaust: Essays by College and University Teachers. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2004.