By Jackson Taylor, News Editor
For 16 years, the University of Nebraska at Omaha has been hosting the Annual Richard Dean Winchell History lecture. This year, the UNO Department of History and the Sam and Frances Fried Holocaust and Genocide Education Fund invited Professor Christopher Browning as the keynote speaker.
Christopher Browning is an emeritus professor of history at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. He received a bachelor of arts degree from Oberlin College in 1968 and a doctorate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1975. Browning is one of the foremost experts on the Holocaust in the world.
“My advisor in college told me doing a dissertation on the holocaust was an interesting topic, but there’s no future in that field,” Browning said.
Despite this discouragement, Browning has made a career of intensely studying the Holocaust, collecting hundreds of testimonies from survivors over the years.
Professor Browning has written and lectured about three main issues: first, Nazi decision-making regarding the Final Solution; second, the behavior and motives of various middle-echelon personnel involved in implementing Nazi policy; and third, the use of survivor testimony to determine Jewish survival strategy.
Some of Browning’s notable award winning publications include “The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy,” “Nazi Policy, Jewish Workers, German Killers” and “Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland .” Browning also wrote “Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp” which won the Yad Vashem Book Prize in 2012 and the Jewish Book of the Year Award in 2011.
Browning’s research and knowledge of the Holocaust have helped to disprove and bring down holocaust deniers and Nazis who since the war have moved onto civilian lives. Browning has even served as an expert witness in two trials of Holocaust deniers and consulted with agencies in their search for Nazi perpetrators.
Browning spoke on the importance of using historical evidence alongside survivor stories to find truth and usable information.
“Critical evaluation of survivor testimony is vital for all Holocaust researchers,” Browning said.
Browning told several stories that he collected over the years about surviving the Starachowice factory slave labor camp in Poland. In many cases, Jews “bought their own slavery” by purchasing work permits to avoid the death camps.
Browning noted that it was crucial for Jews to know which Germans were dangerous, which ones were decent and which ones were corruptible.
He first heard of Starachowice during the trial of Walther Becker in 1972. Becker played a major role in the elimination of a Jewish ghetto, sending 4,000 Jews to gas chambers in Treblinka and an additional 16,000 to slave-labor camps in Starachowice. Despite overwhelming witness testimony, Becker was acquitted due to the judge’s lack of confidence in Jewish testimony.
“I must say that in those 35 years I have read scores of trial verdicts, and many I found disheartening,” Browning said.
“But never have I studied a case in detail and encountered a verdict that represented such a miscarriage of justice and disgrace to the German judicial system as that in the trial of Walther Becker.”
Since this trial, Browning has been inspired to bring those who are guilty to justice. Seventy years after the war and the end of Holocaust, Browning remains passionate about the topic.