Outlaw History #17

A "Profile" of Stephen Feinstein, Director the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) University of Minnesota
Published: 2004-12-07

Early this morning I received a call from a student at U Minnesota saying that she is working on a "profile" of Stephen Feinstein, Director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS), at the College of Liberal Arts. The student wanted my perspective on Professor Feinstein. While the young lady sounded like a nice young lady, I was rather set back by receiving such a call.

I have looked at the CHGS Web a few times, though not in the last two or three years. At the time I thought it a well-done page with the standard academic take on the Jewish Holocaust story and some liberal ideas based on Rodney King's philosophy – with which I entirely agree – of "Can't we all just get along?" This morning, when the young lady mentioned Stephen Feinstein's name, I did not recall it, or anything about him.

I told her as much and said that it would be "unfair" of me to make any observations on him. "Unfair" was not the correct word. I knew nothing about the man, and it would have been wrong, rather than unfair, to say anything about him. There was no way for me to contribute to his "profile."

The young lady then asked me what my attitude is toward Holocaust studies programs on university campuses. I said it is only natural that such programs or departments dedicated to specific historical questions should exist. Why not? As a matter of fact, they are quite common. The problem with programs and departments focused on the Jewish Holocaust story is that they are ruled by taboo, rather then free inquiry and open debate. I do not know of one such program addressing the Jewish Holocaust story that references revisionist arguments regarding the gas chambers, which are the Jewish Holocaust story.

I told the young lady that Holocaust "centers" are routinely organized around taboo, rather than free inquiry and open debate. There are books that students can use, and books they cannot. Questions that students can ask, and questions that students had better not ask. This taboo works for those who created it originally, and who manage it today, but it does not serve the interests of students.

The young lady wanted to ask me a few other questions but I explained that I was in the middle of something, that I had to get ready to leave town tomorrow on a secret revisionist mission (I didn't say that but that is what it is), but if she could send me some questions via email, I would do my best to help her in whatever way I could. I also did not explain that she had caught me dressing, I was still in my shorts, that it was very cold in the bathroom because we have no heat here, and that it is more difficult than I had remembered to dress myself with one hand while holding the telephone in the other. When I was younger I could do it. I think I could. Maybe not.

Expecting to get some questions right away via email, I finished dressing, went in the kitchen, made a pot of coffee, watched CNN for ten minutes or so, then went upstairs to my freezing office. There were no questions from U Minnesota. So I decided to take a look at the Web page for The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies. There is a good bit of material on the site, though some of it is hard to read because of its very dark pages. I decided to print out the Fall/Winter 2004/05 issue of the CHGS newsletter. There I found a photograph of the Center's director, Stephen Feinstein. He looks like a swell fellow, and a savvy one.

The lead story is "Genocide Emergency: Darfur, Sudan." Good enough. The next article is "2003-2004: CHGS Year in Review," by Stephen Feinstein, Director. Going through it quickly I find reference on page 3 to the use of the world "tolerance" in academia. Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld of Georgia State is quoted as writing that historically "tolerance" is the "lowest level of acceptance of the 'other'." I agree. Tolerance typically is an expression of bigotry, except among friends and family where it is often useful.

On page 4 there is an announcement of Upcoming Classes. Classes such as Films of "the" Holocaust. Problems in Historiography and Representation of "the" Holocaust. Summer Workshop on the Teaching of "the" Holocaust and Genocide. Remembering to Forget: "The" Holocaust and its Afterlife. Women and "the" Holocaust. Contemporary Jewish (okay, then!) voices. States of Exception: Jewish Thoughts in Modernity.

We all know what "the" Holocaust was. The "real" Holocaust. It's sure not in Darfur, so there's no need to go on about it in any of these programs.

On page 5, in Upcoming Events, I find "The Elie Wiesel Essay Contest." Suggested topics include: "How is ethics a source of hope, and hope a source of ethics?" "What is terrorism and what is the ethical response to it?" "Reflect on the most profound moral dilemma you have encountered and analyze what it has taught you about ethics."

These are interesting topics for students to deal with. I think they would be good topics for their professors to deal with as well. I would like to talk to students and professors together about such matters. But particularly the last one. That is, has the university created a moral dilemma by accepting the existing intellectual taboo against a real exchange of ideas regarding the gas chamber ("Holocaust") story? Which by definition would have to include revisionist arguments demonstrating that the gas chamber invention is a demonstrable fraud?

If the taboo exists (and it does), do academics create a moral dilemma by "standing aside" from the institutional support for the suppression of intellectual freedom on this matter, intellectual freedom being one of the great ideals of the university in the West? Isn't that what Germans are accused of having done during the Hitlerian regime when Jews in the universities and media were being attacked? Standing aside?

So now I am left with what I could have contributed to the U Minnesota student's "profile" of the director of The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Stephen Feinstein. Reviewing his photograph in his newsletter, I have to say again, he looks like a swell fellow. However…

His Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies appears at first review entirely commonplace, respectable in the worst sense, unimaginative, pusillanimous, and not worthy of either the University itself or the students attempting to study there. Of course, if I take another run at sloughing through the site, I will be willing to reconsider these impatient, if not intemperate, temporary conclusions.

However, reflecting on Director Feinstein's mindless exploitation of the Elie Wiesel image with which he hopes to involve students in matters of ethics and moral dilemmas, I must say that I do not have much hope for him on this matter. Elie Wiesel is the last person to be used for such a purpose. The record on this matter is clear. I do not understand how Director Feinstein could not know this. It looks to me, then, that Director Feinstein should look to moral and ethical dilemmas very close to home.

Where, specifically? In his own heart, I should think.

Additional information about this document
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Author(s): Bradley R. Smith
Title: Outlaw History #17, A "Profile" of Stephen Feinstein, Director the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) University of Minnesota
Published: 2004-12-07
First posted on CODOH: July 3, 2012, 7 p.m.
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