EU professors show doc, conduct a panel on Nazi concentration camps

Category:  News
Wednesday, April 3rd, 2019 at 9:15 PM
EU professors show doc, conduct a panel on Nazi concentration camps by Collin Alekson
Photo: Lucas Hershelman

On March 27, a discussion on the Holocaust was held at the R. Benjamin Wiley Arts & Recreation Center, which featured Edinboro University professors Dr. Janusz Czejdo, Dr. Ihor Bemko and Baron-Forness Library staffer John Widner. 

Widner presented the 1992 documentary, “Opening the Gates of Hell: American Liberators of the Nazi Concentration Camps,” which featured interviews with U.S. Army veterans who had participated in the liberation of various concentration camps in Germany and Austria during 1945 at the climax of European theatre of World War II. 

The witness testimonies from the elderly veterans included gruesome details of their discoveries after liberating the camps. Scenes of mass executions of prisoners who had been hastily dispatched by the fleeing guards had been a common trend, along with the forced starvation of the camp’s inhabitants. The malnourished inmates had frightened many of the American soldiers who described their emaciated bodies as “no wider than their wrist bones.” 

The interviews were coupled with black and white footage taken by U.S. Army cameramen who recorded the infantrymen discovering the camps located near towns like Dachau, Mauthausen and Flossenbürg. 

Following the documentary, Bemko lectured on the history of the genocide and its contemporary use that had begun in the 20th century as a result of the war crimes that occurred in World War II. He also introduced the work of Polish lawyer Raphael Lemkin, who had coined the term “genocide.” This term, Bemko examined, can be used to describe many mass killings throughout history. 

Bemko also explained that “technology and communication” in the 20th century had allowed perpetrators of genocide to work more efficiently than ever before. Besides the Holocaust, the advancement of technology, as Bemko pointed out, has led to other modern tragedies such as the man-made famine in Ukraine during the 1930s and the extermination of Armenians at the turn of the 20th century. 

Bemko concluded his lecture by paraphrasing the often quoted adage: “Those who do not learn from history will repeat its mistakes.” 

He followed up with a lighthearted reflection of students who have taken his classes and who learn the important lesson that if they “do not learn from history, they have to repeat it.”

A question and answer session with the presenters followed after Bemko’s lecture. One question concerned the Holocaust and the practice of labor and death camps. Czejdo weighed in on this question, where he explained how incarcerated Jewish people and other minorities in labor camps had been forced to work for the Nazi war effort but “they were to be exterminated after a while.” 

The knowledge of the panelists, along with the documentary, helped recount to the audience of how history has produced the most abhorrent episodes inflicted on humans. Perhaps the most important lesson to learn from the panel was to remember mankind’s misdoings and to observe how today’s society can remedy conflicts to avoid future calamities.

Collin Alekson | @edinboro.spectator@gmail.com

Tags: panel

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