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Historian speaks about the Holocaust

Wednesday evening, University of Virginia historian Waitman Beorn gave a speech in the Michel Student Center ballroom to Bradley students, staff and the general public. 

Beorn studies the Holocaust and Genocide, and his current project covers the Janowska concentration camp located in Lviv, Ukraine. He discussed the lives of people connected to the camp and the methods in which historians now study historical events. 

“I really tried to highlight a lot of the digital humanities’ cunning techniques that you can use to try and understand not just the Holocaust, but the past in general,” Beorn said. “Just this image is so rare to have at this level of detail that it really makes a lot of what I’m doing possible, accessible and makes it sort of striking to an audience.” 

Beorn was brought to Bradley through the William Armstrong Lecture Series, which is sponsored by Bradley’s history department. Assistant professor of history John Nielsen helped lead to the decision to invite Beorn to speak on campus. 

“I love bringing in experts, speakers, academics from all over the country and enriching the academic experience for students,” Nielsen said. “Dr. Beorn and I were both at Loyola New Orleans together, so we don’t work in terms of history on the same topics, but I knew that he did work that I thought would be appealing to an undergraduate audience. He’s a really engaging speaker, and so I thought it would make for a good event.” 

The topic drew in a full room of students, faculty, alumni and Peoria residents. Some audience members had strong connections to the subject. 

“History of the Holocaust and World War II in general has always interested me and I’m always wanting to learn more,” Bradley alum Josh Lidawer said. “My family was in the Holocaust and so that makes it personal since I grew up with a lot of relatives that experienced these things. I think that this specific topic is something that’s not as widely understood as a lot of people assume.” 

During his speech and the questions that followed, Beorn touched on Holocaust deniers. These are people that either believe aspects of the Holocaust are false or that it did not happen altogether. 

“The first thing to recognize, of course, with holocaust deniers is that that’s all about hate,” Beorn said. “There’s nothing I’m going to do or say that’s going to convince them that they’re wrong, so the best I can do is educate people so they aren’t susceptible when someone comes and try to sell them denial.” 

Beorn described how Janowska served as a hybrid camp for slave labor, transit and extermination. He started the project based on a note he made while writing his first book 10 years ago. 

“I have documents on my computer that I still have to read and still have to keep going,” Beorn said. “At some point I have to stop reading and start writing, but I’ve really enjoyed being here and talking with students. I had a great audience [and] great questions.” 

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