Beth Dotan has worked in the Holocaust education field for many years, including at the Ghetto Fighters House Museum in Israel and as the founding director of the Institute for Holocaust Education in Omaha. In pursuing her doctorate at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, she saw an opportunity to continue that work and focus specifically on Nebraska’s survivors and liberators.
Dotan is developing the digital humanities research project “Nebraska Stories of Humanity: Holocaust Survivors and WWII Veterans,” which aims to highlight these people, who are part of the fabric of the state’s communities and story.
“Over the last 20, 25 years, we’ve been developing pedagogy all over the country, to provide guidance and Holocaust education,” said Dotan, a doctoral student in Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education. “In a way, we were all learning how to do this together, and since then there’s been a plethora of organizations and guidelines in the work of Holocaust education, fighting antisemitism and working in genocide studies.
“I made another shift to come back and pursue my doctorate, looking at the theory of Holocaust educational materials and memory and how we can preserve the memories of individuals who settled in our communities, and document how they survived and overcame the challenges. They gave a lot to Nebraska in many different ways.”
Through her past work and the places she’s lived, Dotan knew of many survivor families and liberators in Nebraska communities.
“I realized that I held memories that needed to be shared,” Dotan said in a presentation on the project for the College of Education and Human Sciences. “I chose to come home to Nebraska from Israel to pay respect to our local survivor/liberator stories — to establish a broader vision of how we work and interact with their legacy.”
To tell these stories and provide guidance to educators in using these materials in classrooms, Dotan chose the digital humanities archival format for “Nebraska Stories of Humanity.” The project highlights both Holocaust survivors and World War II veterans who played a role in the liberation of Nazi concentration camps. The project tells their stories through letters, documents, photos, maps and other artifacts, all annotated and organized by individual. It will provide educational frameworks and concepts to help in the classroom, as well as for the general researcher.
The initial iteration of the project, which is planned to go online in April, includes five people and their stories: Husker alumna Hanna Rosenberg; Clarence Williams, a Lincoln veteran and Dachau liberator who used his camera to document his service; Irving Shapiro, who after surviving the Holocaust, settled in Gering, Nebraska; Bea Karp, a child survivor who lived in Omaha; and Maurice Udes, a Jewish war veteran who was also part of the liberation at Dachau and went on to develop Builder’s Supply in Omaha.
“We wanted to start with an array of people who settled in Nebraska, had different experiences and backgrounds, but who were all connected to us as neighbors and as people who influenced us,” Dotan said. “Irving Shapiro, for example, was one of the first people to hire people from the Latino community to work for him, as an immigrant himself.”
The multidisciplinary project is in partnership with the Center for Digital Research in the Humanities, where a dedicated development team has developed the site and where it will be hosted, and is being overseen by faculty adviser and co-principal investigator Ari Kohen, Schlesinger Professor of Social Justice and director of the Norman and Bernice Harris Center for Judaic Studies. Additionally, Dotan is working with UCARE students on the project and is receiving advising from Carrie Heitman, associate professor of anthropology in the School for Global Integrative Studies and associate director of the CDRH, and Gerald Steinacher, James A. Rawley Professor of History.
Dotan has secured funding from the Cooper Foundation, Humanities Nebraska, the Harris Center and more to grow the archive.
“We want to continue to aggregate as many materials as we can that we find through internet searches, but also through the families and their testimony, to be able to tell the stories of these people as a Nebraska story,” Dotan said. “We can understand that even though these events happened 80 years ago, we’re still very much connected in different ways.”