Holocaust survivor, WU alum to speak on religious tolerance
Dr. Eugen Schoenfeld, Washington University alumnus and Holocaust survivor, will discuss religious tolerance and the sociopolitical factors that led to the Holocaust in a lecture sponsored by the Chabad Student Association in Tisch Commons Monday at 5 p.m.
Schoenfeld was born in what is now the Ukraine in 1925; however, when he was 18, he and his family were sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp. Following his liberation, Schoenfeld studied sociology at Washington University. His lecture will mark the 70th anniversary of the beginning of his education at the University.
“I’m going to speak about the Holocaust; however, my interest is not so much in telling my story because many stories have been told,” Schoenfeld said. “I’m speaking to University students, [so] one of the most important questions I want to raise is: What are the causes of the Holocaust?”
Junior and president of Chabad on Campus Stephen Yoffie stressed the importance of this event, especially as the number of living Holocaust survivors decreases.
“The goal of this event is to gain both knowledge and an emotional connection to the Holocaust so that [we] may strive to prevent other travesties such as this from occurring in the future. It is also amazing to see the resilience of Eugene Schoenfeld, a Holocaust survivor who has been able to overcome this tragedy to lead a meaningful life of teaching others,” Yoffie said. “He is an extremely valuable resource that I hope all of the students that come to the event would be able to draw wisdom from his experiences.”
Rabbi Hershey Novak, co-director of Chabad and senior rabbi at the University, is excited to keep connecting students on campus with Holocaust survivors.
“I think that this is the last generation of college students who are going to be able to interact directly with survivors,” Novak said. “So in that sense, every visit and every interaction should not be taken lightly.”
Schoenfeld previously spoke at the annual lecture sponsored by the Chabad Student Association in 2015. This year, he plans to take a sociological approach to understanding the social conditions that develop into atrocities like the Holocaust.
“We need to understand that the Holocaust or Holocaust-like conditions, like war, have existed for times in memoriam,” Schoenfeld said. “Being a sociologist and a sociologist chair for years, I was writing about the causations of the Holocaust [and] when people became anti-stranger, anti-minority and anti-intellectual. These conditions have always existed and, to some extent, exist now in the United States.”
Schoenfeld also wants to stress the importance of accepting religious and cultural differences because “this United States is a country of many minorities.”
“In the 1960s, the buzzword was ‘tolerance.’ What does it mean to tolerate someone else? Even Socrates talks about that tolerance is a person of the upper class. I, the person who is better than you, I will be tolerant of you. That makes our relationship based on power,” Schoenfeld said. “Rather, we need to learn that people differ and we need to learn how to accommodate ourselves. Accommodations [are] a way in which each person gives up a little bit of his demands and he in turn, accepts some new demands.”
Schoenfeld will speak in Tisch Commons at 5 p.m. Monday.