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Holocaust Education at La Salle University

By Barbara Allen

La Salle University history students visit the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC.

Founded in 1863 in Philadelphia, La Salle University is a Catholic university in the tradition of the De La Salle Christian Brothers. The university’s mission is “to educate the whole person by fostering a rigorous free search for truth.” Students of all faiths are welcomed. Many students enter occupations of service to others, including education, social work, and counseling. Therefore, courses on religion, philosophy, and ethics are important to their development. The Holocaust has usually been taught within classes on modern world history and World War II, and from the perspective of literature. Thanks to a teaching grant from the Holocaust Educational Foundation at Northwestern University, in Spring 2018 I offered the first history class devoted solely to the Holocaust. Readings included Doris Bergen’s War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust and Neighbors by Jan Gross. The grant supported our class trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), where students were profoundly moved by the scale of suffering and loss that confronted them through the exhibits.

La Salle History & Political Science major Stephen Pierce with Mr. Michael Herskovitz, survivor of Auschwitz.

The museum trip provided important context for the testimony they heard later in class from Auschwitz survivor Michael Herskovitz, and for the final class activity, which was analyzing selected archival documents about Holocaust denial by Austin J. App, a professor at La Salle until 1968. The university’s Board of Trustees denounced his antisemitic writings in 1981. Students condemned App’s views and raised questions about his role in the university community. Their activities and readings stimulated lively discussions about morality, humanity, and how individuals and states may intervene to stop attacks on people due to their religion, race, or ethnicity. The course has been added to the undergraduate catalog and will be offered regularly.

Barbara Allen is Associate Professor of History at La Salle University.