'Pay attention to the world around you'

January 18, 2023

A new full-feature online experience for UM-Dearborn’s “History 387: Aspects of the Holocaust” course — made possible by a Ravitz Foundation grant — includes recorded Holocaust survivor testimony from UM-Dearborn’s archive collection, renowned expert talks and more.

Photo of Auschwitz concentration camp

International Holocaust Remembrance Day takes place annually on Jan. 27 — it’s the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp.

When a survivor spoke to UM-Dearborn’s Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive, they said, “If the oceans were ink and the skies were paper, there would not be enough ink or paper to tell of one hour in Auschwitz.”

Campus’ Voice/Vision archive, which began in 1981, has more than 250 first-hand accounts of life during World War II’s systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children.

History Lecturer and Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive Director Jamie Wraight understands that a multitude of voices is needed to better understand the Holocaust and knows it will never be fully covered or understood. But he continues to look for ways to bring awareness to the Holocaust, now 78 years past the 1945 liberation date.

Wraight brings experts to speak to the campus community. He does this annually for Holocaust Remembrance Day  — Manhattan College’s Mehnaz Afridi will give a talk called “Muslims and the Holocaust” on Jan .24  — and finds ways to share UM-Dearborn’s archive and his decades of professional connections with Dearborn Wolverine students.

Through a Ravitz Foundation grant, Wraight recently finished creating a full-feature online experience for his “History 387: Aspects of the Holocaust” course by sharing recorded Holocaust survivor testimony from UM-Dearborn’s archive collection and bringing in renowned experts like U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum Historian Rebecca Erbelding, Nipissing University History Professor Hilary Earl —who focuses on war crimes —and UM-Dearborn faculty members Kristin Poling and Anna Müller.

“There are things I am not an expert in, but there are people out there who are. I want the best information presented to the class so our students can learn about the Holocaust and analyze why this happened, how it happened and find ways they can continue to stay aware to prevent it from happening again,” he said. “Students can watch the recordings at their own pace and every week we meet in person to discuss what they’ve watched. That way they can process what they watched and come to class with any questions they might have.”

The class, previously offered once a year, will now be offered more frequently thanks to the grant. Wraight said he did a “soft opening” last semester with the new format, but considers the format’s debut this winter.

Wraight took over directing the Voice/Vision archive from Professor Emeritus Sidney Bolkosky, who was among the first researchers to interview Holocaust survivors in an effort to document their experiences.

Bolkosky, who taught on campus from 1972-2012, was a campus pioneer in remote learning — sending videos of his lectures to students in UM-Dearborn’s REACH program, a distance-learning initiative that started in the late 1980s. Wraight said some of Bolkosky’s recorded lectures are included in the 2023 course. And, to bring it full circle, the person who recorded the original Bolkosky lectures — College of Arts, Sciences, & Letters Senior  Television Engineer Greg Taylor — also recorded the recent talks and lectures and helped make this new version of the class a reality. 

“Greg had inside information from when some of these lectures were recorded decades ago. This evolution of the campus’ Holocaust course couldn’t have happened without his knowledge and expertise,” Wraight said. “It’s also important to say that Sid was an amazing teacher — no one could give a lecture like Sid Bolkosky. So it’s important to pay homage to his work by sharing his words and lessons in an updated way.”

As the Day of Remembrance approaches, Wraight suggested finding a talk to attend, listening to Holocaust experiences on the archive site or participating in a community event. He said it's crucial to stay vigilant and to continue seeking out information. Lessons from Holocaust education aren’t uplifting; but they are important, he said.

“Take 30 seconds out of your day to really pay attention to the world or around you. Read headlines. Ask questions,” he said. “Having a healthy dose of skepticism about the information you receive is a good thing. The more we know, the more we can rely on our knowledge to stand up to injustices we may see.”

Article by Sarah Tuxbury.