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Letter to the Executive Director of the Nevada Humanities Committee from Donald E. Carns evaluating the Holocaust Nevada Student Conference, March 21, 1984





Letter from Donald E. Carns of the Department of Sociology at UNLV to the Nevada Humanities Committee evaluating the Holocaust Nevada Student Conference held in Las Vegas, March 14, 1984.

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jhp000941. Sperling Kronberg Mack Holocaust Resource Center Records, 1971-2016. MS-00733. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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March 21, 1984 Executive Director Nevada Humanities Committee? P.O. Box 8065 Reno, Nevada 89507 DEPARTMENT OF SOCIOLOGY Subject: Evaluation of the "Holocaust" Nevada Student Conference Las Vegas, March 14, 1984 Dear Sir: Of the many Nevada Humanities Committee functions I have evaluated and parti-cipated in, this was clearly the most efficiently organized, best attended, and--overall--the most successful. I managed to attend (unfortunately, all too briefly) most of the workshops, especially those conducted by survivors of the Nazi pogrom against the Jews. These were informative and poignant. I was particularly impressed by the rapt attention paid by the Clark County students. I saw no inattentive, much less rude, behavior. Questions from the largely student audiences were intel-ligent and reflected a considerable prior knowledge cf the period, its meaning, and details of the German Endlosung. I would say that attendance outstripped prior estimates in both the student and, at the evening session, the adult sectors. I was told by the session organizers that 32 Clark County Schools (Junior and Senior High) sent about 425 students plus teachers and administrators. At the evening session, fol-lowing dinner, I should judge the adult crowd at CA 200-250, including many prominent members of the Las Vegas community, Jewish and Gentile alike. There were several visual displays in the hallways of the Holiday Inn--Center Strip convention area and these, in their depiction of the grotesque horror of the period, obviously affected the students deeply (not to mention myself!) . Also, several of the workshops included visuals--slides, films, etc.--also contributing to the desired impact. several of the workshop presenters, as well as Robert Wentz (an excellent, well-researched welcoming speech), Carlos Cortes (who spoke well, but much too long), and others stressed the most general humanistic lesson to be learned from the Holocaust: that it has happened at other times and places and could, conceivably, even happen in America (and indeed has on a much more micro scale) . As humanists operating from an American ideological base, their arguments UNIVERSITY OF NEVADA LAS VEGAS/4505 MARYLAND PARKWAY/LAS VEGAS. NEVADA 89154/(702) 739-3322 Page 2 tended to focus on symbols, ideology, and social psychology, biases inher-ent in many American intellectuals, rather than on the equally persuasive argument of Marxists, socialists, and others (including scores of German and Eastern European Jewish scholars--eg. Hannah Arendt) that structural condi-tions-- economics, nationalism in politics, bureaucracy, technology--provided the basis and the modus operandum for the so-called "final solution." Professor Fontana, in the evening's closing phase, did provide such an expli-cit corrective. At any rate, no matter: each received its due. The keynote speech of.the evening by Robert Clary (ironically of Hogan's Heroes, the spirit of which certain belied the Holocaust ethos) was impas-sioned and personal, polished, at times understandably bitter, and provided an emotional summing up for the day's activities. His rapid-fire speaking style and French accent may have presented problems for the audience. I have had years of experience listening to Frenchmen using the English language (a favor they will rarely return in kind, especially in Paris), and at times I had difficulty following details of his story--the abduction and near-exter-mination of his family during the early 1940's. Unfortunately the academic humanists who followed Clary were upstaged badly by his emotional professionalism and relative fame. In my opinion they could have been better used during the afternoon's more intimate sessions. The point: academics cannot easily follow actors in the public's interest. I realize that the explicit input of such academic humanists is a central man-date of the Humanities Committee, but they must be integrated carefully for their style and content are not easily digested by crowds accustomed to the superficial slickness of the television medium and the Hollywood film. A tip of my hat to Edie Katz, Eileen Kollins, Winifred Crockett,, for their months of volunteer staff work. They are reflecting one of the key principles of humanism. they do not want us to forget what happens when power and ideology combine with technology and indifference to threaten the very existence of a people, a people I might add who have contributed so very much to Western humanism. There can be no more basic humanistic credo than the right to life, unthreatened by banal bullies who would attempt their extermina-tion in the name of values and a socio-political system based upon darkness, incomprehensible myth, mediocrity, and--worst--an absolute leader principle. And hearty congratulations to the Humanities Committee for broadening its man-date to include "pre-adults," who are, after all, the humanists or the banal bullies of tomorrow. With this conference you have made an important contri-bution to the former good decision and well-implemented. Respectfully, I Donald E. Carns, Ph.D Professor, Evaluator