Uses and Abuses of Holocaust Memory – Public Lecture, Michael Berenbaum

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Date(s) - 18/08/2016
7:30 pm - 9:00 pm

Caulfield Campus, H116, Monash University


Uses and Abuses of Holocaust Memory

Public Lecture by Professor Michael Berenbaum

Thursday 18 August, 7.30pm
H1.16, Ground floor, Building H
Monash Caulfield Campus
900 Dandenong Rd, Caulfield East

Admission free; no prior bookings

This lecture will examine the role of the Holocaust in contemporary discourse. In a world of relativism, the Holocaust has taken its place as the Negative Absolute. We don’t know what is good. We don’t know what is bad. But we do know that the Holocaust is evil, absolute evil. It is for that reason why people use the word in the plural as they attempt to call attention to their suffering – the Black Holocaust, the Holocaust of the American Indians, the Holocaust in Kosovo, Rwanda, Bosnia. The Holocaust is the nuclear bomb of moral epithets. It is an event of such magnitude that the more we sense the relativism of values, the more we require the Holocaust as the Foundation for a negative absolute – absolute evil. This may well be the reason why the leaders of European nations have rediscovered the importance of the Holocaust for contemporary moral education. This may also be the reason why it becomes the focal point for Papal visits to Israel, for German society and for American society. It may also be why Holocaust deniers deny an event that all reasons, all standards of rationality demonstrate cannot be denied. It is in this function as negative absolute that the Holocaust may loom largest in the coming years.

This lecture will probe what are appropriate and inappropriate invocations of the Holocaust and provide criteria by which to judge.


Michael Berenbaum is a writer, lecturer, and teacher consulting in the conceptual development of museums and the development of historical films. He is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute: Exploring the Ethical and Religious Implications of the Holocaust at the American Jewish University  where he is also a Professor of Jewish Studies.  He is in Australia as Visiting Scholar, Department of Hebrew, Biblical and Jewish Studies, University of Sydney

He was the Executive Editor of the Second Edition of the Encyclopaedia Judaica that reworked, transformed, improved, broadened and deepened, the now classic 1972 work and consists of 22 volumes, sixteen million words with 25,000 individual contributions to Jewish knowledge. 

For three years, he was President and Chief Executive Officer of the Survivors of the Shoah Visual History Foundation.  From 1988–93 he served as Project Director of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, overseeing its creation. Berenbaum oversaw and was responsible for the exhibition and for the films as well as for the development of the Library, Archives and Educational Center. He was also the author of its catalogue as well as the major Museum texts. He has consulted with many museums on specific projects and special exhibitions.

Berenbaum is the author and editor of twenty books, scores of scholarly articles, and hundreds of journalistic pieces. His most recent books include: Not Your Father’s Antisemitism, A Promise to Remember: The Holocaust in the Words and Voices of Its Survivors.


In film, his work as Co-Producer of One Survivor Remembers: The Gerda Weissman Klein Story was recognized with an Academy Award, an Emmy Award and the Cable Ace Award. Over the past several years, Berenbaum was a historical consultant or chief historical consultant for:

  • HBO’s Conspiracy, recently nominated for 10 Emmy awards,
  • NBC’s Uprising
  • The History Channel’s The Holocaust: The Untold Story, which won the CINE Golden Eagle Award and a Silver Medal at the US International Film and Video Festival.
  • About Face, a film on German Jewish refugees who fought for the Allies During World War II.
  • Empty Boxcars on the rescue of Bulgarian Jews but only after the Bulgarians had deported the Jews of Thrace and Macedonia to Treblinka/
  • Swimming in Auschwitz, the story of six women survivors of Auschwitz that was broadcast on PBS.


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