Crimes Against Humanity

Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project Launches March 31;

Humanities Institute Symposium on April 9




By Barbara Melendez


TAMPA, Fla. (March 29, 2010) – Two important events at the University of South Florida zero in on humanity at its best and worst in relation to crimes against humanity.


In the first case, The USF Libraries Oral History Program will launch the Concentration Camp Liberators Oral History Project March 31 at 4 p.m. on the occasion of a visit from Michael Hirsh, the author of The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust.


Hirsh’s decision to document the stories of the Allied soldiers who liberated the horrific World War II death camps came not a moment too soon.  According to the writer, at least 16 of the more than150 people he interviewed – ranging in age from 83 to 96 years – have died since he last spoke with them. He was informed by letter only days ago that the oldest interviewee has died at the age of 97.


Out of his painstaking work comes the book.  While it is a readable length at over 109,000 words, the transcripts of the interviews fill several thousand pages. The recordings of the liberators’ voices themselves constitute a particularly important testimony. Hirsh recently donated those recordings to the USF Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center making them available to the world.      


“The people who lived through these events are aging and leaving us more and more each day, so it was incredibly wise of Michael Hirsh to speak with this particular group of witnesses,” said Mark Greenberg, head of the USF Libraries Holocaust and Genocide Studies Center. “The fact that he has donated what they had to say to USF, with more detail than his book could contain, is one of the best gifts possible to leave to posterity.”


Hirsh is left with strong impressions about what the experience of being interviewed meant to the men and women.


“I was struck by how many of them had never spoken with their spouses and children about what they saw. They just didn’t.  More than a couple said their spouses were hearing their stories for the first time during our interviews. This was their last opportunity to tell their stories in way that will be saved – hopefully forever.”


Another unforeseen finding for Hirsh was that as a result of their experiences “…an equal number gave up on religion and God or turned to religion and God, becoming clergymen. No one size fits all.”


Perhaps not as surprising was how events that happened more than six decades ago left their mark on so many of his interviewees.


“The memories were still with them,” he said.  “The images these 18, 19 and 20 year-olds were confronted with are indelible. I can’t tell you how many of these guys still have what we now call PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) and are still having nightmares and waking up with cold sweats from what they experienced. There’s no way you can see what they saw and not be affected for life.”


The experiences of people touched by the Holocaust and more recent episodes of inhumanity will be illuminated the following week.  On April 9 the USF Humanities Institute and the USF Libraries Holocaust & Genocide Studies Center host Holocaust, Genocide, Crimes Against Humanity: A Symposium Highlighting USF Research & Teaching. Seventeen scholars from 11 departments – USF Libraries, Africana Studies, Early Childhood Education, Secondary Education, Mathematics, Anthropology, Humanities, Communication, Women’s Studies, Religious Studies and Philosophy – join forces to present a full day – from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – of thoughtful and thought-provoking presentations and discussions. Sessions will focus on these topics generally as well as what goes into teaching about crimes against humanity, what’s involved with the attendant trauma, where morality and ethics fit in and finally next steps for all concerned.


“This is an interdisciplinary tour de force, focusing on an incredibly important topic,” said Silvio Gaggi, Humanities Institute director. “We would all be happier if it weren’t necessary to have symposia like this one but, unfortunately, looking at the world today it is clear that the ability of human beings to impose suffering on other human beings continues to create abominations that rival the worst ravages nature imposes on us.


“The list of USF faculty and staff participating is quite impressive and reveals the depth of knowledge housed on our campus.  Those who attend can expect to gain a great wealth of knowledge and understanding, and, hopefully, will bring their own insights to the conversation.”


For the schedule, visit


The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.  USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.