The University of Utah held its Days of Remembrance Holocaust commemoration the week of April 8, culminating in a keynote address by Holocaust historian Mark Roseman on Thursday, April 12.
A crowd assembled Thursday on the University campus shortly before Roseman's remarks and read names from lists of Holocaust victims, and then read poems about the Holocaust in unison. The pre-address activity was concluded with a candlelight vigil.
Utah businessman and former U.S. Ambassador John Price offered a brief address, detailing his story of fleeing Germany with his family as a small boy. Price detailed how his family had witnessed the horrors of Kristallnacht and left Germany aboard a ship that was bound for Panama.
“There were four of us, and then another four — a family — then there were eight of us on the boat,” Price said as he paused and became slightly choked up. “A boat that could have taken hundreds of people. ... The German borders were sealed only a few weeks later.”
After Price's account of the victims of Nazi barbarity, Mark Roseman of Indiana University gave the keynote address, which centered on the perpetrators of the Holocaust. Among his other works, Roseman is the author of “The Villa, the Lake, the Meeting. The Wannsee Conference and the 'Final Solution.’ ”
Roseman spoke at length about the infamous January 1942 meeting in the Berlin suburb of Wannsee, where top Nazi leaders met to discuss and coordinate the Holocaust.
“We have to downgrade our expectations in some ways,” said Roseman, referring to the meeting. “The problem with Wannsee is that we were looking for a moment of decision with the gravity and clarity that matched the moral enormity of what was being unleashed. But instead, what we find is the capacity in individuals and the system to evolve and adapt into murder.”
The Wanssee meeting, Roseman said, was not the ultimate decisive moment for the Holocaust, as many long thought, but rather one of many steps on the road to institutional compliance with mass murder.
“Wansee offers a window into a paradigm of a chilling, recognizably human, indescribably inhumane process of evolution and adaptation,” Roseman said.
Roseman also noted the role education played in the Holocaust. Most of the attendees of the Wannsee Conference were highly educated men, many with Ph.D.s. The 15 men who attended the conference also shared certain key, core values, notably the need for German “racial cleansing and acquired territory,” Roseman said.
The meeting was held for a few key reasons, Roseman said. First, there was the need to define certain boundaries, such as who exactly was to be considered a Jew for transportation to the east and extermination in the death camps; second, the meeting's chairman, Reinhard Heydrich, wanted to implicate all government and party agencies in the mass murder operation; and finally Heydrich wanted to make sure that all attendees and their respective agencies knew that the SS was in charge of the operation.
Roseman also commented on the role of Adolf Eichmann at the conference and his subsequent role in the Holocaust. Roseman even showed a brief YouTube clip of the SS officer's trial in Jerusalem in 1961, where he confirmed that the Wannsee protocol, the only surviving record of the meeting, was essentially accurate.
“1942 was indeed the most astounding year of murder in the Holocaust,” said Roseman, “one of the most astounding years of murder in the whole history of mankind.”
The Days of Remembrance commemoration was chaired by Ronald Smelser, professor of German history at the University of Utah.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. Email: [email protected]