Holocaust survivor speaks at ‘Denial’ screening

Holocaust survivor Hans Laufer spoke at the Homer Babbidge Library before a screening of "Denial" on Wednesday. (Ryan Murace/The Daily Campus)

Holocaust survivor Hans Laufer spoke at the Homer Babbidge Library before a screening of "Denial" on Wednesday. (Ryan Murace/The Daily Campus)

On Nov. 9, 1938, German stormtroopers carried out a systematic pillaging of all Jewish life across Germany which became known as Kristallnacht, or “the night of broken glass.” Synagogues and businesses were burned, cemeteries looted and hospitals destroyed under the command of Joseph Goebbels, who wanted to impress the Nazi elite in Munich celebrating the 15-year anniversary of a failed Nazi coup. Those 15 years saw German politics transform from a broken republic into a powerful vehicle for fascist ideals and racist thought.

That racist thought was the topic of discussion at the Homer Babbidge Library on Wednesday for a screening of the film “Denial.” The film details Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt’s defense against a libel lawsuit by Holocaust denier David Irving where she had to prove the genocide took place. The event, hosted by the Center for Judaic Studies, was part of an institution-wide day of reflection on the theme, “Together: Confronting Racism.”

Before the screening, Hans Laufer detailed his harrowing first-hand experience of Kristallnacht. Laufer, a UConn professor of molecular and cell biology, was just nine years old when he was awoken by the destruction of his neighbor’s business and the burning of his local synagogue. The day before would be his last in European public school, as Jews were outlawed following the increase in hatred.

Laufer was lucky enough to have an uncle in America, which made it possible for the family to legally immigrate but their considerable manufacturing wealth had to be left in Germany. 16 dollars was all the family had to their name when they came into the country, four dollars per person, but were able to provide more than adequate education for Hans, who received a Ph.D from Cornell in 1957.

One member of the audience, Matt Roe, a senior majoring in biological sciences, explained the profound effect of the speech: “Hearing from someone who experienced the Holocaust first-hand was powerful. His account of Kristallnacht was truly horrifying.”  

The film, “Denial,” was a fascinating exploration of how to address blatant racism masked in outrageous claims.

Andre Ifill, a sophomore in the ACES program, said the most interesting part of the movie was that, “they didn’t attack the denial itself, because that would validate his claims, but they chose to attack his views instead.”

“Denial” provided a great example of how to counter insensitive opinions, like those voiced by Twitter “trolls,” which is to address their deep-rooted biases and avoid getting bogged down in the facts. This may seem counterintuitive; if you are trying to argue against someone you present facts and argue their veracity. In “Denial,” they connected Irving’s antisemitism and racism to his Holocaust denial and it proved his undoing.


Teddy Craven is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at edward.craven_jr@uconn.edu.