UNCG Researchers Take a Fresh Look at Holocaust
Dr. Roy Schwartzman, assisted by undergraduate and graduate researchers, is looking at the Holocaust through a wider lens.
Earlier studies have approached post-World War II liberation as the climax of the Holocaust story, said Schwartzman, professor of communication studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
But he and his student researchers argue that the end of the Holocaust was only the beginning for survivors; the rest of the story remains an unanswered question of "Now what?"
Schwartzman wants to expand our understanding of Holocaust survivors beyond suffering and victimhood. Through firsthand interviews with survivors, he is asking how and why they established a new identity in North Carolina -- and looking for common metaphors and themes.
"Nobody in the field of communication studies has ever looked at Holocaust survivor stories," Schwartzman said. "We want to distance ourselves from the stories and research on survivors in terms of psychopathology because that feeds a sense of identity solely in terms of trauma and victimage. We're looking at the Holocaust as an ongoing process rather than a discrete historic event. We're looking beyond that at this idea of building an identity and crafting one's role in society."
Schwartzman's research, known as the AfterWords Project, is supported by the North Carolina Council on the Holocaust and has already received $350 from the council. UNCG has supported the project with $1,000 from the Office of Undergraduate Research and a $2,000 community-based research grant.
Schwartzman analyzed Nazi propaganda for his dissertation and expanded his scholarship to include the Holocaust survivor dimension.
He personally conducts all survivor interviews for the project, while undergraduate researchers handle transcription and prepare field notes of archived testimonies. Meanwhile, a graduate student, Susan Von Cannon, is preparing a short documentary on a survivor who lives in Greensboro.
Schwartzman has interviewed three survivors so far -- a concentration camp survivor, a survivor who "passed" as part of a Dutch family and a survivor sent to a forced labor camp -- and is scheduling others. He and his students can also access existing survivor interviews in the Visual History Foundation archive through UNC Chapel Hill.
The stories and conclusions from AfterWords will be woven into multimedia educational materials distributed to North Carolina teachers by the Council on the Holocaust. Von Cannon's documentary may have broader applications for synagogues, churches and film festivals.
"We bring this aspect of the Holocaust directly to teachers and students so that we reduce travel and other expenditure demands on the schools," Schwartzman said.
"We might even produce CDs and DVDs specific to different areas across the state -- a Piedmont edition, for example. It should really hit students that this theme of rebuilding life had been played out in their own neighborhoods."
Schwartzman sees parallels for "rebuilding life" in other cultures, too. For instance, he points to commonalities between Holocaust survivors and freed slaves struggling to make a place for themselves in post-Civil War America.
Above all, Schwartzman hopes AfterWords will help to emphasize the diversity of experience among survivors.
"I always tell my students, there's not just THE Holocaust," he says. "We are talking instead about a very wide range of experiences and a very wide range of influences and outcomes. We have to recognize different dimensions at play."
To share a personal survivor story for AfterWords, contact Roy Schwartzman at (336) 334-5297 or email@example.com.
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