The Colgate Scene ON-LINE

Deborah Lipstdat, Dorot Professor of Holocaust and Modern Jewish Studies, Emory University
Nine years ago, during a service in the Colgate Chapel, Paul Mariani MA '64 said of Terrence Des Pres: "This dialogue is not over. It will simply continue in the imagination. It will continue because it is imperative that this good and brilliant man's message be continued, that the victims he tried to give a local habitation and a name not be forgotten."

A member of the faculty in English from 1973 until his death in 1987, Des Pres was the author of, among other works, The Survivor: An Anatomy of Life in the Death Camps, based on interviews with Holocaust survivors and now a classic in Holocaust studies. He was memorialized on campus in November as Holocaust scholars gathered with his former colleagues, with survivors, with Colgate students, with his family, friends and others for a three-day conference titled "Genocide and Memory" that, indeed, continued the dialogue.

In welcoming the participants, Jane Pinchin, who shared an office with Des Pres and is now dean of the faculty, said, "So many who knew him will bring the man to this conference on the issues he put at the center of his life and weave his presence among us."

"He would have appreciated this," said his son Jean Paul. "He would have denied it, but he would have wanted it. My father wanted his work to be remembered. He wanted to make a contribution to the world that would last."

Peter Balakian, professor of English, who organized the conference with poet Carolyn Forche of George Mason University, called it, "a celebration of some of the crucial issues that defined the work of our esteemed colleague and friend." Said Balakian, whose own efforts have raised international awareness of the Armenian genocide, "We need to study what witness and memory of genocide are because we hope to prevent genocide from consuming the human race; we need to remember that the denial of genocide is a continuation of genocide."

Balakian's concerns were shared by UCLA professor of Armenian and Near Eastern History Richard Hovannisian, who came to campus to present a paper on "Strategies of Denying the Armenian Genocide and the Holocaust."

Robert Jay Lifton, Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology, John Jay College of Criminal Justice and CUNY Graduate Center

Well-known genocide scholar Robert Jay Lifton described "the professional numbing of the witnessing professional" as "the balance between professional obligation and the personal experience of interviewing." Added Lifton, "The reason why the soil is so great for denial is that it is so difficult for people of goodwill to believe what happened." Lifton is Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at John Jay College and CUNY Graduate Center.

"Why a conference?" asked Deborah Lipstadt in her presentation "Denying the Holocaust: The Growing Assault on Truth and Memory," "because the bacillus of prejudice never dies or disappears." Lipstadt is Dorot Professor of Holocaust and Modern Jewish Studies at Emory University.

Geoffrey Hartman, Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature at Yale, presented a paper titled "Intellectual Witness" and showed a stirring 35-minute excerpt of a videotaped interview with Des Pres taken from the Yale Holocaust Archive.

During a concluding Sunday morning tribute, Holocaust survivor Helen Sperling, who was a frequent visitor in Des Pres' classes, recalled their first meeting: "He looked disheveled. But the only thing in Terrence that was disheveled was his hair, because there was nothing disheveled in his heart or in his mind or in his feeling for people. And especially for the survivors. We reached a point in our relationship where his pain was larger than mine."