Guest Lecturers

What If? A Look at Counterfactual History with Dr. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld

How many times do we ask ourselves, what if? What if I would have married someone different? What if I would have taken a different job? We live in a world where everyone tends to ask themselves, What If? Is this a legitimate question a historian and Holocaust researcher should be asking? The Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies was proud to welcome Dr. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, professor of history, Director of the Undergraduate Judaic Studies Program at Fairfield University, author of “Hi Hitler!,” and various other publications on the subject of history and memory, and editor of the University of Haifa Strochlitz Institute for Holocaust Research Journal on Studies of the Holocaust, Dapim. An interesting and captivating speaker, Dr. Rosenfeld spoke with our students about why he claims What If questions on Holocaust history are unavoidable, and are in fact necessary. IMG_1790                                                          Dr. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld 

Would the Holocaust have happened without Hitler? Would the Holocaust be regarded as unique today if the Nazis and Axis Powers won World War II? Would the State of Israel have been established if the Holocaust never happened? Dr. Rosenfeld discussed with our students the role that counterfactuals, the What If questions of history, have on the process of normalizing and understanding the Holocaust. Dr. Rosenfeld’s lecture discussed the process that occurs between factual history, and the creation of memory. Although until recently, this type of history was largely frowned upon, Dr. Rosenfeld presented a strong argument that this history has always been present, even by leading historians, and is actually crucial to our understanding of Holocaust history and memory. There is always a discrepancy between the complete history of any period of time, and what we choose to remember, and to forget. The memory of history is always understood in the context of present day culture. According to Dr. Rosenfeld, asking counterfactual questions serves the purpose of helping us understand our current world, not only the past. Counterfactual questions give insight into many different areas of history that give meaning to our current world and our future. For example, What If questions of morality help us rethink the behavior of those in the past and understand its consequences, and allow us to wonder what might have been better had those individuals acted differently. Dr. Rosenfeld presented our students with counterfactual questions such as, might greater gentile effort at rescue have saved more Jews? Would more Jews have survived the Holocaust if they had resisted Nazis more aggressively? When we ask these questions, we can reevaluate our present behavior and decisions and foreshadow the results of various paths of actions we take in different areas of society and personal life. Dr. Rosenfeld explained that counterfactual questions of history serve many different purposes in helping us make sense of and understand complicated and ambiguous situations in our present that affect our future.

Dr. Rosenfeld made sure to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate counterfactual history. Our students were exposed to the types of What If questions of history that can be legitimately analyzed and that benefit our present understanding and choice and ultimately our future. Dr. Rosenfeld’s lecture was not only extremely fun and entertaining, but also presented our students with a different approach toward looking at Holocaust history and the benefits that can be drawn from this type of historical analysis. The Weiss-Livnat International MA Program in Holocaust Studies is proud to expose our students to numerous approaches toward understanding and interpreting Holocaust history in the context of contemporary culture. Learning to ask difficult and complex questions is part of that process. We were honored to host guest lecturer Dr. Gavriel D. Rosenfeld who gave our students a new approach toward looking at Holocaust history and memory.

Interested in reading Dr. Rosenfeld’s new book “Hi Hitler!,” please check out the link below: Hi Hitler

Interested in applying for our MA in Holocaust Studies Program?  You can find the application and more information at our website:


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s