Robert Abzug

Polish art critic Anda Rottenberg speaks at a lecture Wednesday on eugenics during World War II.
Photo Credit: Rachel Zein | Daily Texan Staff

During World War II, eugenics, combined with modernism, became a popular notion among progressives, Polish art critic Anda Rottenberg said in a lecture Wednesday.

Eugenics is the theory and practice that aims at improving the genetic quality of the human population and leads to the mass popularization of sterilization, according to Rottenberg. 

“The individual body did not play any role anymore, and also, the notion of health shifted from the individual to the society,” Rottenberg said. “Nobody spoke about individual health; they started to talk about national health and how that might create a nation.”

Sterilization is a permanent form of birth control that has been historically forced onto oppressed groups and is a violation of human rights, according to the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights. Many different countries popularized the idea of improving the human race, and this led to the mass sterilization in Germany, Japan and the U.S., according to Rottenberg.

Lecture attendee Marisa Plumb said it is important for her to understand the popular social ideas at the time in order to avoid repeating history.

“It made me think of World War II as a culmination of a lot of different trends in science and in cultural and social thinking,” Plumb said.

Great caution should be taken when people use the word “progress,” especially when it is coupled with scientific definitions and ideas, according to Robert Abzug, American studies professor and director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies.

“The quasi-scientific definitions in any kind of era will produce doctrines like eugenics that lead to pretty cruel … consequences,” Abzug said. “You can believe in hygiene and cleanliness and good health, but, when it extends to racial definitions of what that is, then we’re talking about thousands and millions being killed.”

Abzug said the importance of the topic to a historian might be to gain some perspective on the way society is configured today, but, for students, learning about the dangers of trying to create ideal types of humans means even more.

“If one of the reasons why we go to college and university is to have a perspective on our own beliefs, our own morals [and] our own society, then this was a very important set of lessons,” Abzug said.

Lupe, a Kinsolving Housing and Food employee, picks up a few roses as part of 10,000 Roses, an event hosted by UT’s White Rose Society that promoted awareness about genocide worldwide through remembrance of the Holocaust.   

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Students carrying white roses around campus were a part of a rose parade to promote awareness of genocide and commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. 

While it may have happened roughly 70 years ago, the memory of the Holocaust is still very relevant for members of The White Rose Society, an organization seeking to promote awareness on genocide and human rights. The UT chapter of the society annually hosts the 10,000 Roses Project and passes out roses to students around campus to honor the victims of the Holocaust.         

“We will not be silent,” said Tramanh Hoang, president of the UT Austin White Rose Society. “With this project, we hope to spread more awareness about genocides of the past, especially the Holocaust.”

Ten thousand people were killed everyday at the German concentration camp, Auschwitz, said Hoang. One rose is equal to one life lost in the concentration camp, which helps students realize how a genocide of that scale could affect one in five of the 50,000 students on campus. The rose also serves to promote a human rights symposium hosted by the White Rose Society next week, which will include human rights speakers. 

By using the roses to spread awareness on genocide and human rights, students are given a visual reminder of the thousands of lives lost in the Holocaust.

“It is hard to get attention,” said Robert Abzug, history professor and former faculty advisor of the White Rose Society. “But the issues are there and people go to the events.” 

Abzug said through the 10,000 Roses Project, the White Rose Society does more than just remember the Holocaust and its effects. 

“They call attention to current crises and human rights,” said Abzug. “Action is greater than remembrance.”

Students who received roses had a better sense of understanding of the issue at hand after seeing it on a smaller scale.

“It makes you realize just how many people were impacted and harmed by the Nazis’ actions,” said electrical engineering sophomore Keldon Lou.

The White Rose Society originated at the University of Munich when a group of students were rioting against the Holocaust in 1942 and 1943. Students at UT wanted to raise awareness, so they started the current chapter, now sponsored by Texas Hillel, a Jewish life center off campus.

Moshe Rosman presents his lecture, “How Jewish is Jewish History? Jewish Metahistories and the Jewish Historical Experience,” Thursday. Rosman, a Jewish history professor at Bar-Ilan University in Israel, spoke about the validities of traditional Jewish history.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Dillon | Daily Texan Staff

Scholars studying Jewish history are beginning to consider differences between actuality and people’s perceptions of Jewish history and culture, said Moshe Rosman, a professor of Jewish history at Bar Ilan University in Israel during a talk Thursday afternoon.

The Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies sponsored a lecture by Rosman titled “How Jewish is Jewish History? Jewish Metahistories and the Jewish Historical Experience.” The lecture featured Rosman’s views on the validities of traditional Jewish history and the metahistories which he describes as “the big story that historians tell.” 

“As far as Jewish history is concerned, it has been construed as the quest for a secular Jewish culture, as the process of Jews returning to history and establishing a state, as the triumph over persecution, and many other metahistories,” Rosman said.

Robert Abzug, director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, said he thought it would be a great idea for people to be exposed to Rosman’s work in Jewish history. 

“He speaks clearly of major issues and makes them comprehensible even if you’re not Jewish or a historian, and in ways that are quite applicable to history in general,” Abzug said.

During his lecture, Rosman said the percentage of students studying Jewish studies at Israel’s Tel Aviv University has decreased from 30 percent to 3 percent since the 1970s. 

Rosman will give two additional lectures in the following weeks over different topics in Jewish history. 

Next Thursday, Rosman will discuss the background behind the construction of a new Jewish history museum in Warsaw, Poland. 

“Now all of a sudden, there is a new interest in Poland about Jews and the lecture will cover why this museum all of a sudden and why does this happen?” Abzug said. “The lecture will be about a specifically Jewish topic, but the implications are rather broad for most elements of culture.” 

Rosman will lead a third lecture Feb. 14 on the increasing influence of Jewish women in Europe in the early modern period. He said he thinks the general public will be most interested in this topic. 

Comparative literature graduate student Rae Wyse said she attended the lecture to see if Rosman would raise questions that could relate to her research on Jewish history in Latin America. 

“I work on Jewish studies in Latin America and this question of the history of Jews is very important to me,” Wyse said.

After the first lecture, Wyse said she felt the subjects Rosman covered were very interesting. She said she is hoping the next two lectures will add to her research interests.

“I think the next two lectures will be relevant and interesting to other people as well,” Wyse said.

Published on January 25, 2013 as "Jewish history told in new light". 

Professor Robert Abzug coordinates “Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín,” a symposium about the Nazi concentration camp Terezín presented by Texas Performing Arts and the Schisteman Center for Jewish Studies

Photo Credit: Fanny Trang | Daily Texan Staff

Revealing evocative performances from and inspired by the Nazi concentration camp Terezín, “Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín” is a three-day symposium hosted by the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies and Texas Performing Arts that explores the resilient creativity of those interned at the camp. The Symposium features works from the artists held in Terezín and works influenced by the art that they produced.

Used by the Nazis as an exhibition concentration camp to assure neutral nations and groups in World War II, Terezín housed thousands of the most talented musicians, artists, poets and writers from across Europe. Set against the gruesome backdrop of the Nazi regime, Terezín offered a strange cultural escape from the bleakness of World War II.

“It was this weird cultural life,” said Robert Abzug, history and American studies professor and coordinator of the Symposium and Director of the Schusterman Center at UT.

“There were the best musicians in Europe, with jazz musicians and cabaret actors. The creative output was extraordinary. This idea of artists working under those conditions was such an inspiration and such a testament to the human spirit. That alone was compelling just to see the way that it has inspired other artists.”

The Terezín Symposium is a conglomeration of different reactions and depictions of the bizarre reality of life in Terezín. Allowing concerts and performances to continue, the Nazis portrayed Terezín as a cultural oasis throughout the war. From a Holocaust film depicting the difficulties of the collaborative process to the music of internationally known British violinist Daniel Hope, the performances portray the resilience of creativity. Although they are an unconventional response to the Holocaust, the performances exhibited allow the audience to internalize the message of the pieces.

“Public performance reflects societal ideas about identity, contributes to how society is shaped or re-shaped, memorializes and responds to history,” said Rebecca Rossen, a dance history professor and one of the co-organizers of the Symposium. “Performance provides a very unique means to respond to the Holocaust. How can performance help us grasp something that is ungraspable and bear witness to that to make sure that this history is not lost?”

Preceding Daniel Hope and Friends’ orchestral performance, “Forbidden Music,” Oct. 9, Rossen will speak on the history of dances about the Holocaust.

“Because dance is not always linear — it’s not so obviously narrative the way a lot of films are — dance can capture the disorientation, emotion, difficulty and impact of an event in a very symbolic but poignant way,” Rossen said.

Representing the modern relevancy of Holocaust history, collaborative pieces juxtapose the past of Terezín with the modernity of the elements used in its portrayal. The contemporary dances in “Last Dance,” a collaborative film between author Maurice Sendak and the Pilobolus Dance Theatre, derive their inspiration from the past. The photography exhibit captures the raw human emotion and pain felt years after the war. Photojournalism professor Dennis Darling and Loli Kantor, a fine art and documentary photographer, have worked diligently to capture the stories and images of those last remaining survivors of Terezín and exhibit them as part of the Symposium.

“It’s the last living history,” Darling said. “It’s the last image of the Holocaust. Right now you can still talk to someone who has gone through it, so I talk to as many as possible.

All are unique; the only common thread is that they were in Terezín together.”

Capturing the memories of those interned at Terezín has immortalized their history. Presenting “Creativity in the Face of Death: The Contemporary Resonance of Terezín,” the Schusterman Center and Texas Performing Arts work to intertwine the arts and the dramatic history of World War II into a program that provides students and the community with the opportunity to experience living history.

“First of all, it’s a fascinating history, a deeply relevant history to our increasingly and still violent world. You can learn a lot about something that is ultimately an important question,” Abzug said. “It is the preservation of the human spirit and the preservation in the face of death. The depths of human spirit and resilience are important to continue to be humane human beings in the face of enormous odds.”

The importance of this remembrance transcends generations. Featuring the UIL award-winning performance of Celeste Rapanti’s “I Never Saw Another Butterfly” by students from Bastrop High School, the Symposium highlights art as a means of Holocaust education. The play features the art and thoughts of those children growing up in the nightmarish camp. It connects the abstract history of the Holocaust with the reality of fear felt by children.

“‘I Never Saw Another Butterfly’ was one of the first books I saw or read about the Holocaust,” Abzug said. “The first exposure has a real impact. I think it lived with me and still lives with me.”

Yet the next generation of students will be educated in decades devoid of living history; the Holocaust and its survivors will be only read about. The Symposium memorializes those who were killed in the Holocaust while depicting the creative triumphs of the resilient few who created art under the Nazi regime.

Printed on Monday, October 8, 2012 as: Exhibit reflects Holocaust camp