FDU Magazine Online Summer/Fall 2004
“We have cried together and laughed together.
We have forged trust
and under-
standing across national, cultural, religious and disciplinary boundaries.”
— Leonard Grob

By Angelo Carfagna

The goal of the Pastora Goldner Holocaust Symposium is nothing less than to help repair the world, but when the participants convened in June for the fifth event, the focus again began with each other’s worlds, each other’s souls.

German theologian Britta Frede-Wenger described her life as a new mother, while American philosopher Leonard Grob shared his thoughts on continued scholarship and activism as he approaches retirement. Others, too, discussed the triumphs and sorrows that mark their lives as they delved into the darkness of the Holocaust in order to shed light on today’s world.


Focusing intently on the discourse during the Pastora Goldner Holocaust Symposium are, from left, Samson Munn, president of The Foundation Trust, Boston, Mass., and Rabbi Steven Jacobs, the Aaron Aronov Chair of Judaic Studies, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa.



The challenge is daunting. As written in the prologue to a recent book produced by several symposium members, “… the Holocaust continues to leave survivors, historians, philosophers, theologians, novelists and poets groping for words to describe and reflect upon, let alone explain, the immensity of that watershed event …” It is exactly that task, though, that drives these professionals. Their academic interests brought them together almost a decade ago, but their bonds of friendship now perhaps best define this unique network.

The symposium, held every two years at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Wroxton College in England, is unlike any other. It turns the normal academic conference inside out, focusing first and foremost on dialogue and community-building rather than formal presentations of academic papers. And, it features a diverse representation of 39 scholars from seven countries committed to working together on a continuing basis.

The successes since the group first gathered in 1996 are certainly impressive. Collaborations and collective inspirations are producing important academic projects, artistic creations and public presentations, as well as a regular book series. But the greatest success is perhaps that which is hardest to measure: the formation of a true community.

“We have built strong bonds of friendship,” says co-coordinator of the symposium Leonard Grob. “We have cried together and laughed together. We have forged trust and understanding across national, cultural, religious and disciplinary boundaries.”

A Vision of Healing

Grob had long wanted to build a community of scholars to study the lessons of the Holocaust. An FDU professor of philosophy who also directed the University Core program on the Metropolitan Campus, Grob, like many of the participants in the symposium, has a personal connection to the Holocaust. The Nazis killed all the members of his father’s immediate family in Poland. For Grob, speaking about the lessons of the Holocaust and striving to make the world a better place is a way of “memorializing the dead, particularly my own grandparents and other members of my father’s family.”

Nicholas Baldwin, Wroxton College dean, knew of Grob’s interest and also was familiar with a Holocaust scholar from the University of Tulsa, Henry Knight. For years, Knight, a United Methodist pastor, associate professor of religion and university chaplain, has coordinated a biennial colloquium for faculty at Wroxton. It was Baldwin who suggested that Grob and Knight collaborate on an international gathering of Holocaust scholars. The two discovered they had much in common, including, says Knight, “similar styles and sensibilities.”

Above all, both wanted to make a difference in today’s world. They use the phrase tikkun olam, the repair of the world. “We wanted people to think about ways in which our studies could help us to think and to act, to help repair the world in the light of what we have learned about the Holocaust and other genocides,” Grob says.

“The Holocaust teaches us the perils that we face when we fail to acknowledge the other as co-subject.”
— Leonard Grob
After-Words: Post-Holocaust Struggles with
Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Justice

And both had discovered that the best and most fruitful moments of academic gatherings occurred during informal talks between and after sessions. “The goal was to make those casual moments the focus,” recalls Grob.

“We proposed a thorough revision of the academic enterprise and asked if there were others who saw a need for a different kind of gathering that would be more interactive and holistic,” says Knight, an expert in post-Holocaust Christian theology. Knight was drawn into the study of the Holocaust by his concerns over Christian complicity with the Nazi regime, as well as the fact that his father served in Berlin during and after World War II. Knight also was inspired by the work of Holocaust survivor and writer Elie Wiesel, with whom he has formed “an important friendship.”

Before Knight and Grob could make their vision real, they needed support to help fund the project. Grob thought of his former student Pastora Campos Goldner, BA’95 (T), MA’96 (T), who had taken his course, The Holocaust: Philosophical Issues, and who also had spent a semester abroad at Wroxton. “Her depth of feeling and intellect are outstanding,” Grob says, and “she is concerned about injustices in today’s world. I hoped she would be interested.”

Leonard Grob,
Fairleigh Dickinson
University Professor
of Philosophy and
co-organizer of the
Pastora Goldner
goes over program
notes with benefactor
and supporter Pastora
Campos Goldner,
BA’95 (T), MA’96 (T).

Goldner was immediately excited, especially upon learning that Grob, whom she praises for his knowledge and integrity, would be one of the coordinators. “I wanted to become involved and help make a difference,” she recalls. “We need to apply these lessons from the Holocaust to today’s world and educate ourselves so we don’t fail again.”

Not an absentee supporter, Goldner attends the conferences, interacting and growing close to the participants. “It is wonderful to be among these scholars and friends,” she says. Her affiliation also has become somewhat of a family affair. Her three daughters, her sisters and other family members also have attended several events.

Goldner adds, “I’m honored that the symposium bears my name, but I’m even more proud that it has become such a meaningful event with special individuals who really care about what happens today.”

“Pastora Goldner has made all of this possible,” Grob says. “Her courage, her vision and her ongoing financial support of the symposium have enabled us to create and sustain this community of scholars.”

The Call Goes Out

Symposium members were selected based on proposals regarding their commitments to the symposium’s goals. Knight and Grob asked three initial questions to potential participants:

    ·  “How are we to respond in word and deed to a world radically transformed in which ‘business as usual’ no longer applies?

    ·  “How are we to utilize our learnings from the Shoah [the Holocaust] in order to face, responsibly, the genocidal potentials inherent in our own world?

    · “Do you want to join us in an intergenerational, interdisciplinary, international and interfaith venture committed to post-Shoah healing and responsibility?”

From more than 80 responses, Grob and Knight initially selected 36 individuals. Participants hail from the United States, Canada, England, Sweden, Germany, Belgium and Italy. About half of the members are Christian and half are Jewish. “There wasn’t one specific criterion we were looking for,” remembers Knight, “but we wanted to configure a kind of special constellation of relationships, an emergent and dynamic network.”

“The opportunity to systematically examine the topic in an interdisciplinary setting was a matter of great excitement for me,” says Hubert Locke, professor emeritus and dean emeritus of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs at the University of Washington, Seattle. “Because disciplines can be narrowly focused, to do this in a cross-disciplinary fashion gives the Wroxton seminar special importance.”


Immersed in dialogue are, from left, Andrew Charlesworth, lecturer in human geography, Cheltenham College of Higher Education, United Kingdom; Hans Rathenow, director, Institute for Social Sciences and Education in History and Politics, Technische Universität, Berlin, Germany; and Annegret Ehmann, independent scholar from Germany.

Locke also was drawn to the notion of working within a “sustained community” and being able to renew bonds on a regular basis with fellow scholars. The symposium has worked “brilliantly,” he adds.

Britta Frede-Wenger, who teaches in the department of theology at Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen in Germany, agrees, “Together with Pastora Goldner’s help, Leonard Grob and Henry Knight have created a culture of working together that ensures that everybody is a teacher as well as a student.” She adds that the diversity of the participants leads to some interesting results. “The mix of approaches to the same topic is felt in every meeting and is what makes the symposium a true learning experience for all of us.” 

Spreading the Word

At the first Pastora Goldner Holocaust Symposium in 1996, the members were divided into six small working groups exploring different aspects of the Holocaust. Ideas quickly emerged from these gatherings, and one group eventually produced Ethics After the Holocaust: Perspectives, Critiques, and Responses. The book is edited by symposium member John Roth, the Edward J. Sexton Professor of Philosophy and director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College, Claremont, Calif., and includes contributions from five other members.

In 1998, the symposium sessions were organized around central themes derived from the participants’ suggestions, such as “The Endeavor to Face Radical Evil”; “The Shoah, Other Genocides, and the Call to Action”; and “Educating Toward Goodness/Away From Evil.” An in-house publication, Fragments From Wroxton, summarized the group’s work and was made available to the libraries of the members’ institutions.

For June 2000, the scholars studied common texts to deepen their knowledge base. Also, “Remnants,” a one-man play based on interviews with Holocaust survivors, was performed by its author and symposium member Henry Greenspan, a lecturer in the College of Literature, Science and Arts at the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. In addition, work began on an anthology titled After-Words: Post-Holocaust Struggles with Forgiveness, Reconciliation, Justice.

The volume is co-edited by Roth and fellow symposium member David Patterson, who holds the Bornblum Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Memphis, Tenn., and includes contributions from six other symposium members. Published early in 2004 by the University of Washington Press, the anthology is the first in the new Pastora Goldner Series in Post-Holocaust Studies. Grob says symposium members have committed to submitting one book per year to the press. The vast majority of authors or contributors will be symposium members. Several new volumes are being reviewed, among them an anthology titled Fire in the Ashes: God, Evil, and the Holocaust.

Each book in the Goldner Series will feature on the cover the artwork of symposium member and former FDU Professor of Fine Arts Arie Galles. Part of his recently completed series of charcoal drawings titled “Fourteen Stations/Hey Yud Dalet,” the chosen painting for the covers is Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of Galles’ 14 depictions of aerial views of concentration camps.

Like the symposium, most volumes in the book series will take the form of a dialogue, with conference participants writing their own chapters then offering critiques of one another’s chapters and, finally, submitting responses to their colleagues’ critiques. “The process of a dialogue, of us acting as teachers and learners, has been captured in the methodology of the publications,” says Knight. “They are snapshots of the symposium. We’re trying to share part of our conversations with a wider audience.”

An Unbroken Circle

One particularly rewarding part of the symposium, participants say, is the regular Circle of Friends session, in which the members share aesthetic representations that symbolize an aspect of the members’ relationship to the subject. Some sing songs, some tell stories and, as Knight describes, “We experience moments of insight, disclosure and bonding.” The Circle of Friends is the setting in which two original members were mourned in 1998 following their deaths.

It is these moments that, according to the participants, especially define the group and the symposium. Whether through the Circle of Friends, observing Sabbath rituals, playing a game of “intercultural charades” or spending a late night at the pub telling jokes, members have built a strong camaraderie.


Relaxing during a break in the symposium are, from left, Arie Galles, former FDU professor of fine arts; Hubert Locke, professor emeritus and dean emeritus of the Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, Seattle; and Stephen Feinstein, director, Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.



Such bonds helped the conference tackle more problematic subjects in 2002, such as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the impact of September 11, 2001.

“One cannot work on the Holocaust without being drawn to contemporary issues,” Locke says. “The opportunity to give attention to current issues is something of great importance because these events do seem to repeat themselves. Being with a group of scholars who we know and trust permits us to consider divisive topics.”

Grob and Knight also scheduled a session on “identifying the minefields” to deal with these emotional and controversial issues. “We want to allow the community to work out differences in a way that produces healing,” Knight says.

A Magical Undertaking

The program’s location in Wroxton provides a majestic setting. FDU’s British campus, located in the village of Wroxton, lies in the heart of England between Oxford and Stratford-upon-Avon, 75 miles northwest of London. The Abbey, a 17th-century Jacobean mansion, is a national historical landmark.

“It’s magnificent,” Locke says. “There’s something about being able to sit in that manor and contemplate. Wroxton is emerging as a landmark setting for study.”

As beautiful as Wroxton is, though, Knight says, “The magic is not the place, but being together for reflection, renewal and concentrated work.” And that magic continues long after the members leave Wroxton. As Frede-Wenger says, “The spirit of collegiality and trust extends far beyond the Wroxton grounds.” This is a genuine network, and small groups work together on the various collaborations while individuals meet or talk often.

During the development of the symposium, the number of participants grew slightly but was capped at 39, which remarkably includes 31 of the 36 initial respondents. “The fact that we have retained such a significant proportion of our original participants is evidence of the success of our endeavor,” say Grob and Knight.

While Knight and Grob orchestrate the production, they carefully follow the direction the group desires. “We’re good listeners,” says Knight, “and we’re looking to grow the symposium in ways that are desirable to the participants.”

He compares the symposium to an adult Montessori school, in which the participants largely determine the structures and methods used. “I have been part of a wonderful program,” Knight adds. “I’m proud to be part of something with this kind of energy and life of its own. The key is how to get out of the way.”

The Latest Chapter

The 2004 symposium featured, for the first time, a day dedicated solely to networking. Grob says this could encourage even more collaboration or allow members to seek the counsel and advice of their colleagues.

The arts were especially showcasedin 2004. Symposium member Gottfried Wagner, great-grandson of the famous composer, presented excerpts, including musical examples, slides and a videotape, from an opera project, “Lost Childhood,” based on a Holocaust survivor’s memoir. There also were dramatic readings of the testimony of victims from various times and places, compiled by symposium participant Robert Skloot, professor of theater and drama at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Knight says that he always looks forward to the opportunity to immerse himself in these studies. “We’re fed by the relationships we’ve built, by the subject matter and by the knowledge that what we’re doing makes a difference.”

While the program’s future is dependent on the evolution of the group, Grob says the main goal is “to continue exploring the boundaries of Holocaust studies in a world that has changed quite dramatically since our first symposium in 1996.”

“Had they [the Nazis] resisted their yearnings for certainty
and finality, their confidence that they were right, and
especially their ‘knowing’ that destiny, truth, or simply
superior physical power were on their side, the Holocaust
would not have happened. ”
— John Roth
Ethics After the Holocaust: Perspectives, Critiques, and Responses

Grob and Knight both feel they have made a significant difference in the lives of the Goldner participants and in the lives of all they reach. As Grob says, “I think we have encouraged one another to reflect on the lessons taught by the Holocaust in our scholarship, in our teaching and in the way we live our everyday lives. I think the memory of the victims is kept in the forefront of our conferences and all our activities. That memory helps us to try to make the world a better place.”


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