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June 03, 1988 - Image 14

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-06-03

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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14

FRIDAY, JUNE 3, 1988

awrence Rudner has a
compulsion — that the
past, particularly the
Holocaust, should not be
forgotten or misinterpreted
by history books or by those
who would rewrite history to
suit their own needs. To
satisfy that urge, he took up
the mantle of teaching the
lessons of the Holocaust.
Rudner, a former Detroiter,
was in Detroit recently to
speak at the Holocaust
Memorial Center and to pro-
mote his new Holocaust-
themed novel, "The Magic We
Do Here."
An English professor at
North Carolina State College,
Rudner said he had a duty as
a Jew to make sure the
Holocaust would not be
forgotten.
"I had a real feeling that
within my lifetime, the sur-
vivors of the Holocaust — the
real teachers — would no
longer be here. I felt a moral
duty, a moral compulsion, as
a post-war baby to talk about
this, because to me not only
as a Jew, but also as a
humanist and a writer this
was the most essential and
important event in history
and everything has reacted to
it — literature has, art has. I
didn't want to let it pass. I
was very fearful it would pass.
I could see it tangible that
these people would pass away
and what would we have?
Trite Hollywood versions of
the Holocaust, television
mini-series. Although my au-
dience is a very limited one —
a classroom of students — you
do the best you can."
Two events from his youth
spurred his interest in study-
ing the Holocaust: seeing the
survivors who participated in
activities at the Meyers Road
Jewish Community Center
and a photo depicting the
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
"At the time I may not have
realized it," Rudner said, but
there at the old Jewish Com-
munity Center on Meyers .. .
I'd see these people, essential-
ly refugees, and they had a
very sad look to them. I don't
think I understood that as a
boy growing up in this coun-
try, secure, protected and lov-
ed. I didn't understand loss. It
was only when I became older
(that I understood)."
The photograph had a
jolting effect on him. "It had
something I'd never seen
before," Rudner said, "a Ger-
man soldier pointing a rifle at

a mother holding a one-year
old child. It was the
penultimate moment before
her death. I must have stayed
there an hour looking at the
photograph. I was young
enough, an adolescent, to feel,
`How could that happen?' "
His compulsion to not let
the past be forgotten nor
misinterpreted by history
books steered him into
teaching courses on the
literature of the Holocaust. It
has carried him to Poland six
times where he has taught
seminars, and spent a year in
Krakow as a Fulbright Fellow
writing and teaching.
Rudner's first novel came
about as a result of many

Lawrence Rudner

years of teaching Holocaust
literature in the United
States and in Poland, and
after having written several
short stories.
Many years ago he came to
realize there was very little
being done with Holocaust
literature at the university
level. So Rudner developed a
course and began teaching it
at a small Christian college
in northern Wisconsin.
"As a teacher, it was im-
possible for me to afford to get
to Poland, as it was very ex-
pensive. In 1981, a poet friend
of mine had just gotten back
from the USA-sponsored
teaching seminar and sug-
gested I try to do likewise. So
I applied. They took me and
that was the start. I have
been five times since then."
Modern-day Poland is a dif-
ferent place, Rudner finds,
than it was not so long ago.
He described the curiosity,
the new openness that he now
sees there.
"Poland is probably,
relative to other eastern bloc
countries, the free-est. There's
a natural rebelliousness

among Poles. I've never ex-
perienced any censorship of
my content or methods. The
students, who are a little
older and more mature than
their American counterparts,
realized a part of their culture
had been torn away. It was as
if they were trying to under-
stand what it was so they ask
a lot of questions."
"It is ironic that a foreigner
has to come and tell them
what their history was really
like. The Poles never denied
the Holocaust happened, but
Polish-Jewish relations are
very complicated. There's a
Jewish perception of Poland,
and a Polish perception of
Jewish history. It's a con-
troversial thing. There's been
a lot of propoganda. The
young people don't really
know what happened.
History books haven't been
fair."

When Rudner paid his first
visit to Auschwitz in 1981 he
was surprised to see the word
Jew mentioned. He followed
guided tours and saw it sug-
gested that millions of people
died there, but one never
knew who they were. The
Jewish museum was closed
for repairs during the first
four years Rudner visited it.
On his last visit, the museum
was open.
"Conditions have changed,"
explained Rudner. "There has
been a great call for openness
in Polish political life and
social life. Within that open-
ness there were questions
raised about the war. There
were a number of leaders in
Solidarity who were of Jewish
origin. I don't know if they
consciously identified
themselves as Jews, of course.
It was an attempt to open up
the whole society, but also a
part of the Polish past, so long
censored by the socialist
government.
"Dialogue has begun bet-
ween Polish universities and
Israeli ones about Polish-
Jewish relations . . . I don't
know how much the Poles will
change but Polish historians
are working more honestly."
Rudner does not diminish
the existence of anti-
Semitism, so long a part of
Polish, life. He blames a lot of
it on the fact Jews and Poles
occupied two different worlds
within the same land. There
are very few Jews still living
in Poland today. Of these
many are old, he said, and
among the young people,
some but not all, have chosen
to Polonize their surnames.

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