Holocaust Museum Visit Tests the Concept of “Happiness”

Byline: by Lesley Eichelberger

Posted: March 3, 2012

Four floors of photographs, memoirs and artwork tell the stories of the estimated 14,000,000 people murdered during the Holocaust in the mid-twentieth century. Located in Washington, D.C., the Holocaust Memorial Museum is home to the artifacts that tell the story of this European genocide. Eight students and two professors visited the Holocaust Museum on Weds, Feb. 15. Asst. Prof. of Religion, David True and Asst. Prof. of Philosophy, John Elia coordinated the trip as part of their "Happiness" course.

Elia explains his decision to test student’s ideas regarding happiness by visiting the Holocaust memorial. "This is not intended for shock value, but rather to challenge students’ notions of happiness in different contexts," he says.

Witnessing the fate of Jews during the Holocaust

The museum’s founders dedicated it to the victims and survivors of Hitler’s reign in Germany from 1933- 45. The exhibits begin with a replica of a young Jewish boy’s home. A recording of his diary narrates the decline of his family. The interactive display prompts you to handle their belongings, to consider their hardships and to witness their fate.

At the end of the memorial is an eternal flame that rests soil taken from a twentieth-century concentration camp. It is a dedication to both the victims who died in such camps, and the American soldiers that died for their rescue.

Time for reflection

Museum visitors are given a chance to reflect on what they have seen, to pray, and to light a candle in remembrance.

After leaving the museum, students discussed what they learned and related it to the Happiness course.

Students respond to the experience

Amanda Kenney ‘14 says, "The innocence in the children’s drawings made me see that there is something inside us that allows us to hold on to a form of happiness during a tragedy, a kind of naivety."

"It makes me think that human dignity is the basis for happiness, deserving of all people," says Briana Doscher ‘12

The Happiness course is a unique offering for students. It combines history, philosophy and religion to explore concepts of Happiness, both past and present.

Says True, "Our goal is for students to critically think as they encounter many voices across a history of happiness. This will help them to discover, deepen, and refine their own voices."

Unlike previous courses with two professors, the Happiness course is taught by True and Elia simultaneously. Both are present and engaged in every class.

"We have different expertise. This helps to facilitate discussions. We learn from our students and each other. It’s also nice to collaborate with a friend, someone that you respect," says Elia.

Last Updated: March 3, 2012

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