Annual Holocaust conference ignites learning at all ages

The seventh annual Powell-Heller Holocaust Conference sought to educate more than just Pacific Lutheran University students.

Running from March 12-14, the conference featured visiting academics, Holocaust scholars and donors. There were also many visiting high school students during the last day of the conference.

The Powell-Heller Holocaust Conference opened with an evening movie, “Weapons of the Spirit,” and subsequent discussion in Xavier Hall.

Professor Bob Ericksen, the Kurt Mayer chair of Holocaust studies, said the film focused on a group of people in France who rescued 5,000 Jews. The creator of the film and a Holocaust survivor, Pierre Sauvage, was present at the screening of his film and for the discussion.

The following day included a presentation by Sam Brill — who is the child of Holocaust survivors — and a panel that included Christopher Browning, a leading Holocaust scholar and the former PLU Kurt Mayer chair of Holocaust studies.

High school students from schools like Charles Wright Academy, Mount Rainier Lutheran and Kamiak arrived March 14 for a special morning session with three different segments on three different issues. Ericksen said the focus was on the themes of rescue and resistance.
Ericksen also spoke about the new Holocaust and genocide studies minor, and said he hoped to encourage further education about the Holocaust.

The students heard various speakers and listened to Browning, Sauvage and Nelly Trocme Hewett, a rescuer.
“One high school teacher told me that was the most intellectually intense two hours he’d ever experienced,” Ericksen said of the presentations by Browning, Sauvage and Trocme Hewett.

Kamiak High School senior Tiffany Coons said she particularly enjoyed listening to Trocme Hewett.
“I didn’t know much about the resistance movement,” Coons said. She said it was interesting to see how religion played a part in activism. “These were ordinary people making choices and changing things,” Coons said.

Kaylee Fitterer, another Kamiak High School senior, agreed that Trocme Hewett was the highlight of the conference for her.
“It’s [being a rescuer] not unobtainable. We all have the potential to be a hero,” Fitterer said.

The high school students also attended an afternoon luncheon and a number of other students’ presentations on topics relating to the Holocaust in the Scandinavian Cultural Center.
“I thought it [the conference] went very well,” Ericksen said afterward. “I was pleased with the attendance, and I was pleased with all the presentations, which I thought were very good.”

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