“As the world is imploding, the preservation of language is essential,” said Alan Rosen, world-renowned Holocaust scholar in his seminar “Broken Hearts, Broken Home: The Holocaust and Its Languages”. Approximately 50 people met in Reeves Theater on February 29 to hear him speak.
“Dr. Rosen’s visit was illuminating. He somehow made his work and himself accessible, even though he is an expert in his field, working on some very advanced material. He took time to speak and listen to students, and seemed to genuinely believe in our potential to learn from each other,” said Josie Rush, a senior with a minor in genocide and holocaust studies.
“Dr. Rosen was very, very knowledgeable and moving. His talk encouraged me to think about a different side of Holocaust studies, and to think about the importance of language in my own life,” said Jessica Orlowski, senior.
According to Rosen, the language that the Jews chose to speak expressed their pain and experiences. Rosen’s research for his first book “Sounds of Defiance” focused on “the Holocaust, multilingualism and the problem of English.”
“The choice of language in European Jews was never neutral,” said Rosen. There was the traditional Hebrew of the Torah, the Aramaic of the Talmud, the languages of the countries they lived in and mixture languages like Yiddish.
Rosen’s first illustration of the importance of language was the case study of the Warsaw Ghetto. 20 writers were assigned to cover different aspects of ghetto life in secret.
“There were attempts to write and to constantly create culture even in conditions that were increasingly disparaged,” said Rosen. “One needed to record or else Jews would vanish from the Eastern European scene.”
Several writers changed from writing in Yiddish to writing in traditional Hebrew after the Treblinka deportation. It was as if they were saying, “we will set the terms by speaking what we want to speak” according to Rosen.
Language became even more important in the concentration camps.
“Language took on a life or death quality. If you didn’t speak German you weren’t human anymore,” said Rosen.
Rosen also explored the work of David Boder, a psychologist who conducted 109 interviews with displaced persons after World War II. Boder, who was fluent in nine languages, allowed his interviewees to give their testimonies in their language of choice.
“I was fascinated by Dr. Rosen’s lecture about the Holocaust and its languages, especially his research of interviews by David Broder of Displaced Persons just after WWII,” said Wilda Kaylor, associate director of The National Catholic Center for Holocaust Education (NCCHE).
“Using the Internet to access records of the interviews he showed the audience how informants stressed different aspects and feelings based on the language in which the interview was conducted,” she said.
Dennis Jerz, associate professor of English, Daniel Martino, associate professor of theology and Michael Cary, professor of history and political science, hosted Rosen in their classes.
“In American Foreign Politics, a class Dr. Rosen spoke in, our class was very engaged, especially when we got on the subject of Holocaust denial,” said Mary Calligan, political science major.
The event was sponsored by the NCCHE and Seton Hill University’s (SHU’s) anti-genocide group, STAND, as well as the Spanish, English and Communication Clubs. According to Kaylor, the modern language faculty, including Judith Garcia-Quismondo, Debra Faszer-McMahon and Michele Chossat, were essential to the planning of the event.
“Dr. Rosen was very approachable and insightful during his time at Seton Hill. He was very open to discussion and debate on all topics setting an excellent example for students to follow,” said Sarah Harmotta, member of STAND.
Rosen is a frequent speaker and teacher at the Yad Vashem’s International School for Holocaust Studies in Jerusalem where he lives with his wife and four children. He got his PHD at Boston University and studied with writer, Nobel Peace Prize winner and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.