UCSC Holocaust chair endowed: Its not just a Jewish problem

Like many who escaped the Holocaust, Anne Neufeld Levin desperately wants the world to remember the events of 50 years ago.

To help ensure this, she recently donated $250,000 to U.C. Santa Cruz for an endowed chair in Holocaust studies, one of just a handful in the United States.

"I feel it is critical to perpetually study the circumstances culminating in Hitler's final solution for the Jews," said the 59-year-old Santa Cruz resident. Neufeld escaped Vienna with her parents in 1939, just as Hitler's troops invaded Czechoslovakia.

"Only by remembering can we immortalize the millions of victims and help to prevent a similar onslaught against any group," she said.

Along with $250,000, Levin donated an extensive family archive. Her parents Henry and Hedy Neufeld carefully preserved these Holocaust-related artifacts, and later Neufeld took on the task herself. Among the items are the family's wartime identity papers and passports, which are stamped with the letter "J," and two of the suitcases Levin and her parents took on the boat from Europe to the United States.

Also included in the archive are Henry Neufeld's stamp collection, which includes nearly every stamp issued by the Third Reich, and a letter Levin's father wrote to the Detroit couple who took in her brother when he was sent to this country ahead of the family. The archive will be housed in the University Library's Special Collections section.

Parting with the items was "extraordinarily traumatic," admitted Levin, who is a member of Temple Beth El in Aptos. "I did break into tears when I walked into the Special Collections room rolling this cart."

But at the same time, "I feel very strongly that this is where those things should be."

Levin's endowment to UCSC is an extension of her longstanding relationship with the university. Along with establishing the Neufeld Levin Holocaust series in 1993, she is a current board trustee and a former president of the UCSC Foundation, which is the main fund-raising arm for the chancellor.

In providing her recent endowment, Levin stipulated that the chair in her name — which university officials say could take several years to fill — must have an interdisciplinary focus.

"There are Holocaust experts in medicine, science, literature and theater," she said. "I am hoping that the creation of the chair is only a nucleus around which other activities will be possible."

There is great value in such an interdisciplinary approach, according to Murray Baumgarten, a UCSC professor of English and comparative literature who co-teaches a Holocaust course with history professor Peter Kenez. When the course was offered earlier this year, 300 students enrolled.

"There are a lot of courses taught under the heading `Jewish studies,' but the Holocaust is not just a Jewish problem," Baumgarten said. "To keep it isolated in Jewish studies misses the point over and over again. The Bosnians, the Cambodians, the Rwandans and many others understand that this is not just a Jewish problem."

Leslie Katz
Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is the former culture editor at CNET and a former J. staff writer. Follow her on Twitter @lesatnews.