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Donors echo lesson of never forget

October 27, 2008

Donors share value of Holocaust Education

Last week, stories of survival and the lessons of history were on the forefront of many people’s minds. On Oct. 21, more than 150 people gathered for the Second Annual Powell and Heller Family Conference in support of Holocaust Education at Pacific Lutheran University.“It is always difficult to know where to begin,” Kurt Mayer told the assembled crowd in the Scandinavian Center.

He was talking about the story of his life as a survivor of the Holocaust, but the former PLU regent and namesake of the Holocaust Education professorship could have been talking about how to describe the strides the program has made.

Mayer spent his youth fighting for survival. It was a time where blind hate, deception and disbelief led to the deaths of millions. By remembering the darkness of history, lessons can be learned, he said.

“I think the world has changed,” Mayer said.

The university has been part of a change for better understanding and that’s why Mayer has continued his support, he said.

“It’s a remarkable beginning of a new program that builds on PLU’s strengths,” said Robert Ericksen, the Kurt Mayer Professor of Holocaust Studies in the Department of History.

Really the program continues to manifest into something larger since its inception 34 years ago, he said.

Last May, a group of generous donors helped create an endowed professorship for the program.

With continued support, Nancy Powell hopes to expand the program to a chair position. The Powell and Heller families have been committed to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. That commitment is evident in the $1.5 million they have helped raise to create a chair position for the program. Two million dollars more is needed, but the drive and desire to never forget the lessons history can teach people are there, Powell said.

“I believe everyone can make a difference,” she said. “I have witnessed this here at PLU.”

The Holocaust is forever engrained in the life of Harry Heller. His parents, John and Georgette, survived the horrors of concentration camps.

They were honored at the conference, along with the six million who lost their lives during the Holocaust. The event also marked the 70th anniversary of Kristallnacht. In November of 1938, the windows of many Jewish businesses where mashed, hence Kristallnacht, “the night of broken glass.”

The Nazis blamed all the problems Germany was facing on the Jewish people. The event spiraled Jewish resentment into repression and persecution.