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Holocaust survivor organizes UCSC conference on anti-semitism

Holocaust survivor organizes UCSC conference on anti-semitism

May 2, 2003
Sentinel Staff Writer

SANTA CRUZ — The horrors of the Holocaust are not just a lesson for UC Santa Cruz history professor Peter Kenez — they are vivid memories of paralyzing fear and devastating loss.

Kenez, a Holocaust survivor, is keynote speaker at a three-day conference on anti-Semitism planned Saturday through Monday at UCSC. Scholars and historians from around the world will examine what is being called a worldwide resurgence of anti-Jewish sentiment.

The university regularly holds lectures and film screenings on Judaism and religious studies, but this is the first extensive, multi-discipline event it has offered on anti-Semitism and the Holocaust. The conference is free and open to the public.

"It involves about 20 scholars," said event coordinator and Jewish-studies lecturer Bruce Thompson. "It is timely in that there is this new wave of anti-Semitism that has really taken off in the last two years. Many would say it reached a plateau in the 20th century and was declining in intensity and virulence, but in the wake of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, it has flared up and reached dimensions that are quite alarming."

Murray Baumgarten, UCSC professor and also an event coordinator, said anti-Jewish fliers, newsletters and magazines are circulating in France and the Arab world at a high rate, prompting concern among Holocaust survivors and educators.

"Is it part of the strategy in dealing with the Israel/Palestinian conflict?" Baumgarten asked. "We need to ask what does it mean that this stuff is circulating?"

One well-known, century-old tract, "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," describes a supposed Jewish plot for world domination. Hitler was a fan.

It was recently printed in an Arab-American newspaper in Hoboken, N.J., Baumgarten said. It’s also distributed on a regular basis throughout the Middle East.

Kenez said the anti-Jewish material hints at the atrocities humans are capable of committing, and that remembering the Holocaust may help society to stop, pause, reflect and take another route.

Kenez knows first-hand what such teachings can foment. When he was 7, his father was kidnapped by Nazi soldiers in a suburb outside of Budapest, Hungary, while on his way home from work. He was taken to a concentration camp and his son never saw him again.

Kenez said he remembers his father and many members of his father’s family, just as he remembers the awful feeling he had that he himself might not make it out of Hungary alive.

"I was afraid, I was terrified," Kenez said. "I mean, you live from day to day, but I was very conscious that I might not make it."

In an ironic stroke of luck, Kenez came down with scarlet fever shortly after his father disappeared, and a red handkerchief pinned to the front door of his family’s home — used to warn of his illness — kept German soldiers at bay long enough for his mother to successfully plot an escape to nearby Budapest, where her parents lived and where it was safe.

"She collapsed emotionally (after the ordeal)," Kenez said of his mother. "She was scarred."

Kenez and his mother escaped to America after the war with only memories of his father, which, even today, remain powerful.

"I remember him very well indeed," Kenez said. "I admired him."

He said the feelings of dread and fear for his life never faded until he set foot on U.S. soil.

But while the anti-Semitism Kenez faced waned dramatically, it didn’t end; it just took different forms. He attended Princeton University — part of a 5 percent quota for Jews.

Baumgarten said anti-Semitism is rearing its head again in the United States, too. In addition to the Elders of Zion protocol published in New Jersey, war protesters at a recent San Francisco peace rally were photographed displaying pictures of the devil with a dollar sign over his head standing over a globe, surrounded by the words "Zionist Pigs" and "Stop the War Pigs."

A remembrance of the Holocaust is due, Kenez said: "It shows how people have behaved in extreme circumstances. It reveals something about our humanity, what human beings are really capable of."

The UCSC Jewish Studies Program and the Holocaust Center of Northern California are sponsoring the conference, "Re-thinking Anti-Semitism: The Holocaust and the Contemporary World.

Prominent scholars from the United States, Poland, England, Hungary, Israel and South Africa will examine anti-Semitism from a historical and contemporary perspective.

Yehuda Bauer, one of the premier historians of the Holocaust, will be a featured speaker. He is founding director of the Center for Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and director emeritus of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Israel.

"(Bauer) is coming all the way from Israel to speak, and he has promised to talk not only about his specialty, but about what’s happening now — comparing anti-Semitism with the new wave of anti-Semitism — something he hasn’t done before," said Thompson, the UCSC lecturer.

There will be an examination of the "Protocols" and an extensive exhibit from the Neufeld-Levin Family Archive.

Anne Frederika Neufeld-Levin and her family also escaped the Holocaust, and she donated family letters, personal artifacts and items from Nazi-dominated Europe to UCSC Library’s Special Collections. She also established the Neufeld-Levin Endowed Chair in Holocaust Studies at the campus.
Contact Robyn Moormeister at

‘Rethinking Anti-Semitism: The Holocaust and theContemporary World’

WHAT: A three-day conference.

WHERE: Stevenson College, UC Santa Cruz.

WHEN: Saturday through Monday, commencing with UCSC professor Peter Kenez’s speech at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, followed by a screening of the film, ‘Danube Exodus,’ by Hungarian director Peter Forgacs.

Among the conference highlights, professor Yehuda Bauer will speak at 11:15 a.m. Sunday.

ADMISSION: Free and open to the public.

DETAILS: For a full schedule of events or other information, call 459-2496 or go online to

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