As the remaining voices of Holocaust survivors grow fewer and more far between, Lawrence University will examine that dark moment in human history May 11-13 in a wide-ranging, interdisciplinary and multimedia symposium entitled “Austrian Jews: Exile and the Holocaust.”
The symposium will bring together Lawrence students, faculty and the larger community in a far-ranging examination of both the history and present-day implications of the Holocaust.
The timing of the symposium is tied to the anniversary of the end of World War II on May 8, 1945 and to the annual April 19 “Day of Remembrance,” which each year commemorates the Jewish genocide at the hands of the Nazis. All symposium events are free and open to the public.
Highlighting the program will be the first-person experiences shared by four Holocaust survivors who fled Vienna, Austria in 1938 to escape the Nazis. Curtis Brown from Neenah, and Anne Kelemen, Gerda Lederer and Renee Wiener, all from New York City, will share their personal accounts of topics covering life in Austria leading up to the war, escape via the Kinder Transport, working with the French Underground and life during the war in the labor camps.
Brown, Kelemen and Lederer star in the 1999 award-winning documentary on the Viennese emigration, “Abschied ein Leben Lang” (A Life-Long Farewell),” one of three films that will be shown during the symposium. Wiener was recognized in 2010 for her World War II work in the French Resistance with the Insignia of the Legion of Honor in a special awards ceremony at the French Consulate General in New York City.
“The chances of our students ever speaking to a Holocaust survivor are getting slimmer very rapidly,” said Professor of Music Catherine Kautsky, who organized the symposium. “It seems more and more urgent to give these survivors a forum in which to speak out, particularly to the younger generations of students for whom World War II may seem like ancient history.”
The inspiration for the symposium grew out of a series of round-robin letters circulated by Kautsky’s 90-year old father, John Kautsky, and a group of his Viennese high school peers, all of whom were forced by the Nazis to emigrate from Vienna in 1938.
The letters chronicle the experience of leaving their homeland and establishing citizenship in new countries. The letters are now being published, generating considerable interest in the United States, Austria and Germany. They will be featured in a presentation by Jacqueline Vansant, professor of German at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, including footage of Kautsky’s father discussing the letters, followed by clips of a present-day boy at the very same school reading from the very same letters during a December 2011 ceremony at that high school.
The symposium is designed to amplify the survivors’ experiences from multiple perspectives, among them:
- film screenings: “God Does Not Believe in Us Anymore,” “Watermarks,” and “Abschied ein Leben Lang” (“A Life-Long Farewell”).
- a pair of concerts, including staged scenes from the opera “Der Kaiser von Atlantis,” by Viktor Ullmann, written at the Theresienstadt labor camp and completed shortly before Ullmann’s death in the gas chambers at Auschwitz. Prior to the Saturday, May 12 concert, Lawrence Associate Professor of Music Julie McQuinn will present the talk “Music and the Holocaust: Remembering the Inconceivable.”
- an art exhibition featuring prints and paintings of Austrian and German Expressionists, with commentary by Elizabeth Carlson, Lawrence associate professor of art history and Frank Lewis, curator of Lawrence’s Wriston Art Gallery.
- dramatic readings of letters, poetry and memoirs of survivors by theatre professors Timothy X. Troy of Lawrence and Susan Sweeney of UW-Madison and actress Jacque Troy of the Milwaukee Chamber Theatre.
- a video created by Lawrence student members of Hillel, a Jewish student organization, featuring interviews with students and faculty members discussing their family connections to the Holocaust and the responsibility of sharing information about the Holocaust with future generations.
- a discussion of dance choreography of the period by Rebecca Salzer, visiting professor of dance, with an introduction by Lawrence President Jill Beck.
- a presentation by Jacqueline Vansant entitled “Making Connections over Space and Time: The Extraordinary Group Correspondence of Jewish-Austrian Schoolboys.”
- a display of student art work and poetry that deals with Judaism, the history of the Holocaust and generational issues.
“The arts will be featured prominently in the symposium as mirrors of the society in which they were created,” said Kautsky. “Concerts produced by the Lawrence Conservatory of Music faculty and guest artists will feature works by Jewish composers written in or about the concentration camps and the presentation of poetry, dance and visual art should likewise serve as very visceral reminders of a period in history we can’t afford to forget.”
A reception featuring Viennese pastries and coffee will be held with symposium participants Saturday, May 12 afternoon.
Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and current Lawrence artist-in-residence Catherine Tatge is collaborating with students to produce a documentary about the symposium.
Lawrence members of Hillel are donating six native Wisconsin perennials to the Sustainable Lawrence University Garden (SLUG) as a remembrance tribute to the six million Jews who were lost in the Holocaust.
About Lawrence University
Founded in 1847, Lawrence University uniquely integrates a college of liberal arts and sciences with a world-class conservatory of music, both devoted exclusively to undergraduate education. Ranked among America’s best colleges by Forbes, it was selected for inclusion in the book “Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About College.” Individualized learning, the development of multiple interests and community engagement are central to the Lawrence experience. Lawrence draws its 1,445 students from 44 states and 35 countries. Follow us on Facebook.