Feb. 21, 1997
Feinstein to Establish Holocaust Center
Professor Steve Feinstein, chair of the history department at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, will take a two year leave of absence to serve as the interim acting director for a new center for Holocaust studies at the University of Minnesota.
The Holocaust was a major event of the 20th century with the attempted genocide of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany. Holocaust studies have received increasing attention over the past two decades, according to Feinstein, including introducing the topic into middle school curricula.
Feinstein will begin his leave in September to direct the establishment of the Holocaust Studies Center through a private grant to the University of Minnesota.
The center will serve as a resource to add to Holocaust teaching efforts by providing information and materials for curricular development. For example, it will create resources, programs for speakers, and improve information available on the Internet. It also will assist K-12 schools in both Wisconsin and Minnesota.
The study of the Holocaust is important because it had its own uniqueness in history, said Feinstein. He believes that re-telling the story of the Holocaust is important for both prevention and understanding. Many people, including historians and the Holocaust survivors themselves, are concerned about how the story will be re-interpreted after the last of the survivors are gone. An expert on Jewish history and Holocaust art, Feinstein was the guest curator who organized and developed a "Witness and Legacy" exhibit at the Minnesota Museum of Art in St. Paul in 1995. The exhibit featured contemporary art depicting the Holocaust.
Feinstein first began teaching about the Holocaust in 1975, and in the 1980s Holocaust studies became Feinstein's main area of research.
Feinstein now teaches a "History of the Holocaust" workshop at UW-RF every spring, which includes films and guest speakers. He is also actively involved in several organizations, including the Union of Councils for Russian Jews and the Board of Scholars Conference for the Holocaust.
Feinstein is working toward the completion of a book about Holocaust art. So far, he says, "Not much research has been done in the realm of art relating to the Holocaust." The emphasis has always been on photography as a historical record. He says that the question many people ask is, "How do you create art that is considered beautiful out of such a horrific experience?"
All aspects of material must be considered when studying Holocaust art Feinstein says. For example, charcoal is made of ashes. When artists draw with charcoal they, symbolically, could be drawing with the ashes of the many bodies that were burned in Nazi concentration camp crematoriums.
The important thing to remember, remarked Feinstein, is that if the art is too horrible, people won't stay to look at it. However, artistic response to the Holocaust is highly symbolic. It is usually less graphic than photographs. This also makes it an acceptable way to teach children about the Holocaust.