October 13, 2010

Course spotlight

Where technology meets history

Henry Goldsmith's German passport, 1939

Henry Goldsmith Skypes Lipstadt's "Film and the Holocaust" class.

When Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Modern Jewish History and Holocaust Studies, began her freshman seminar on “Film and the Holocaust,” she had no way of predicting what was in store for her class.  

One of the curriculum’s films was “Into the Arms of Strangers,” about the Kindertransport, a pre-World War II rescue program that took some 10,000 Jewish children from Nazi Germany and other at-risk areas to safety in Great Britain.

A student in the class stepped forward to announce that her grandfather was one of those children, and that he was still alive and living in Florida.

Realizing the rare opportunity to offer her students a firsthand encounter with history, Lipstadt arranged to take the class to Emory’s Center for Interactive Teaching to Skype with the Holocaust survivor.  

The student, Laurabeth Goldsmith, had long been interested in the Holocaust, and had traveled to Europe to visit concentration camps with her parents after a 7th grade paper had focused her interest on this phase of Jewish history. She prepared a list of questions to pose to her grandfather, Henry Goldsmith.  

As the fascinated class watched on big-screen TV, the elder Goldsmith told his childhood story.  

He had been born into an affluent family in Hanover, Germany. “We had a very nice lifestyle until the soldiers and the police made it a very scary lifestyle…we had gone through Kristallnacht [attacks against Jews in November 1938].

“The German storm troopers knocked on the door where we lived and they demanded entrance…It was a scary night and after that night my parents decided we had to get out of Germany. The police came and took my father away…My mother was able to get him out of the concentration camp.”

Goldsmith explained that Jewish and English people took care of him and his brother when they arrived in England. He remembered going to Belgium by train, then to Holland and crossing the English Channel by ship. He remembers it as a very traumatic experience, having to be strong for his younger brother.

Eventually his mother got the boys to Canada and the United States. Both parents escaped to England. His father then had to go to Australia. In England, the boys were eventually sent to the countryside.  

Coming to the United States later, Goldsmith changed his name from Goldschmidt, because “It sounded too German.”

He returned to Germany to visit in 1987 but couldn’t face going to Hanover until 2006.  He felt very bitter about what the Germans had done to his family.

Class member Shaunesse Jacobs commented that the Skype “meeting” had “put things into perspective. We had seen the movie, but personally hearing someone’s story told us how hard it was, and the hatred you could have when a place turned against you.”

File Options

  • Print Icon Print