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Holocaust Living History Workshop: Events

2020 - 2021

Witnessing the Past: Holocaust Histories

Tamar Belle-Fille de Juda, Marc Chagall 1960

“The past is not dead,” William Faulkner famously quipped, “it is not even past.” The saying alludes to the long aftershocks of major historical events. As such, it seems uniquely applicable to the Holocaust. Although 75 years have passed since the end of the Second World War, the Holocaust continues to reverberate across the generations. As survivors are getting fewer and fewer, secondary and even tertiary witnesses are assuming ever greater significance in the global effort to make sense of what seems to elude human understanding. Therefore, the 2020-2021 Holocaust Living History Workshop event series is dedicated to the topic of witness. What does it mean to witness rather than merely study the past? How have film and music been used to make sense of the Holocaust? In what ways to personal testimony and historical scholarship enhance our understanding of the Shoah? These are the questions explored by this year’s series of public events.

View the full list of virtual Holocaust Living History Workshop Events for 2020 - 2021. All events start at 5:00 p.m. and are free and open to the public, but registration is required.

Past Events

Recorded events are available via:

2019 - 2020 Events

Facing the Shoah: Trauma, Memory, Resilience

Tamar Belle-Fille de Juda, Marc Chagall 1960

In a culture increasingly condensed to sound-bites, even as immense and complex a catastrophe as the Holocaust is frequently reduced to a few key terms. Hitler, Auschwitz, gas chambers: these are the code words that conjure the mass murder of six million Jews and millions of other victims during the Second World War. The Shoah, however, cannot be understood by looking merely at the actions of a few powerful men operating in a handful of strategic locations. A comprehensive study needs to encompass prelude, occurrence, and aftermath of the genocide. Above all, it needs to approach the targets of the Nazi exterminatory policy in terms of their unique individuality. To illuminate neglected aspects of the Holocaust, this year's series of public events focused on the themes of trauma, memory, and resilience. How have societies and individuals dealt with trauma? How is tragedy remembered, mediated, and transmitted? And finally, in what ways have victims and survivors managed to transform suffering and loss into art? The 2019 - 2020 Holocaust Living History Workshop series, in keeping with the program's name, presented a genuinely "living history" intended to emphasize the reverberations of the Shoah in the present. This focus on "living" rather than dead history acknowledges the multifarious nature of victimization and survival and, in so doing, restores the faces to the faceless Others.

2018 - 2019 Events

The Holocaust: History, Memory, and Meaning

Family Portrait 1,” Barbara Michelman

History writing in the West tends to be structured in terms of causation, contingency, and chronology. What if we were to conceive of history in terms of a palimpsest instead – as layers of meaning that are constantly being written, erased, and rewritten? Unlike historians, men and women who have experienced historical tragedies cannot simply declare history to be finished. This is nowhere more true than when applied to the Holocaust. As the Nazi past becomes historicized, memories of the great offense linger over time, like sediment building up in the individual and collective consciousness. It is from this sediment that meaning is derived. In this year’s lecture series, speakers explore the elusive connection between history, memory of the past, and meaning in the present. Whether the topic is a photographer’s journey to the Lithuanian killing fields, individual acts of resistance against Nazi oppression in the Third Reich, or the experience of a Yugoslav child survivor, memory and meaning provide the signposts in their attempts to make sense of the past.

2017 - 2018 Events

The Possibility of Renewal: The Shoah Between Past, Present, and Future

Painted ceiling based on the 18th-century

In 1640 the people of Gwozdziec in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth built a large wooden synagogue. Almost exactly three hundred years later, the German invaders burnt it to the ground. Another 73 years would pass until the synagogue would come to life once more. In 2014, the POLIN museum in Warsaw unveiled the synagogue’s reconstructed roof, complete with the stunningly replicated “celestial canopy.” The canopy symbolizes the bold attempt to reclaim an effaced history and to restore a lost heritage to its former vibrancy. What does it mean for a defeated people to resurrect its past? How is renewal possible in the wake of genocide? What role do memory and justice play in renewal? While the massive destruction wrought by the Holocaust cannot be diminished, much less ignored, the attempt to move beyond catastrophe and to rebuild life and culture deserves recognition as well. In this year’s series of public workshops, memory, justice, and renewal constitute the red threads that run through the tapestry of a history that is tragic yet also inspiring.

2016 - 2017 Events


Ever since the last concentration camp prisoner was liberated in the spring of 1945, historians have struggled to make sense of the Holocaust. Initially ignored, the mass murder of European Jewry was first analyzed in-depth by Raul Hilberg, the doyen of Holocaust historiography. At the time of the publication of his magnum opus "The Destruction of European Jews" (1961), few could have predicted the enormous growth in scholarship that would be devoted to this most elusive of modern tragedies. Countless writers continue to grapple with the origins, scope, and aftermath of the genocide that diminished the Jewish population of Europe by two thirds and resulted in massive loss of non-Jewish life. Despite this tremendous increase in knowledge, however, we do not seem to be any nearer to understanding what really happened. Like the woman in Halina Olomucki’s haunting “Portrait of a Woman,” we are both grieved and baffled in the face of virtually unimaginable brutality and barbarity.

This year’s lecture series was structured around the theme of the burden of this history. Approaching the Holocaust from various angles, the workshops aimed to throw light on various aspects of the Holocaust such as recovering lost stories, documenting atrocity, and the transgenerational transmission of trauma.

2015 - 2016 Events

 Life? or Theatre??

This year’s series contained presentations by scholars, writers, filmmakers, and survivors that highlighted the trope of the journey. The geography of these “Holocaust journeys” extends from Poland in the East to Ecuador in the West, while the form of expression ranges from literature and art to documentary and scholarly research. The result is a rich tapestry of experiential trajectories that illustrates the complex nature of the Shoah.

The title page of the Jewish artist Charlotte Salomon's (1917-1943) principal work "Life? or Theatre?" located in the Joods Historisch Museum in Amsterdam. The story of Charlotte Salomon and her works was presented by Darcy Buerkle.

2014 - 2015 Events

Hidden Stories: Legacy of Pain

This year's lecture series was dedicated to the topic of "hidden stories." From the memories of Ruth Hohberg, a child survivor from Bielsko, to the archives of missing persons assembled by the International Red Cross, the Holocaust was a calamity of such massive proportions that we are still discovering and recovering new information. Holocaust survivor Lou Dunst was present during the world-premiere of the documentary "I Had to Clean My Heart," a film dedicated to his life. He passed away in September 2015.

2013 - 2014 Events

Journeys, Memories, Echoes


Although the Holocaust officially ended with the conclusion of the Second World War in 1945, it is neither past nor "masterable," to borrow from the historian Charles Maier. In this series, survivors and scholars explored the journeys they have taken, both personally and professionally, and the insights they gained.

A Roma man and woman sit in an open area of the Belzec death camp. The Roma were the only people besides the Jews that was targeted for complete extermination.

2012 - 2013 Events

The Long Shadow of the Past


This year's workshops constituted a tapestry of unique tales: from the experience of child survivors and the attempts of second-generation survivors to reconstruct their family's past to scholarly attempts to trace vanished communities – all these stories form an important chapter in the recent Jewish past. The synagogue of Tunis.

2011 - 2012 Events


Witnessing History

What does it mean to witness history in the making? During this academic year, the Holocaust Living History Workshop provided the broader San Diego community with an opportunity to learn more about this experience and to contemplate the painful reverberations of events that took place more than half a century ago. On the night of November 9, 1938, subsequently called Kristallnacht, the Nazis unleashed a nationwide pogrom that was intended to drive the Jews out of Germany. Synagogues all over the country were set on fire.

2010 - 2011 Events