Nearly 70 years after the Shoah, how does a community commemorate one of history’s most horrific atrocities? At this year’s Holocaust Commemoration on April 8, one means of remembrance was a lullaby.

Heather Viola, SSH’14, sang “Wiegala” by German poet and songwriter Ilse Weber to open her talk, “Lullaby: A Child’s Experience of Terezin Through Music.” The audience sat transfixed as the trained soprano—who has performed at New York’s Carnegie Hall—led listeners through haunting lyrics describing tranquil nature scenes.

As Northeastern’s 2013 Gideon Klein Scholar, Viola has spent the year exploring the role of music in the lives of children at the Terezin concentration camp. “Music was many things for the people [at Terezin],” says Viola, who is pursuing a combined major in international affairs and human services. “For some, it was how they survived, literally, as many musicians were considered a utility and were given better treatment. For others, music was a means of escape and remaining in touch with their culture. Music was also an act of resistance, a way for people to feel empowered when all else had left them powerless.”

Viola’s Gideon Klein Scholarship, through the Jewish Studies program, supports a student exploring the work of an artist or musician persecuted by the Nazis. The late professor of chemistry Bill Giessen—who grew up in Nazi Germany and later dedicated himself to Holocaust remembrance—established the award to honor the memory of Gideon Klein, an extraordinary Czech pianist and composer who died in a Nazi death camp in 1945.

Viola’s presentation was just one moving moment in the Holocaust Commemoration, which both anchors Northeastern’s Holocaust Awareness Week and is part of the university’s yearlong Conflict, Civility, Respect, Peace programming. Laurel Leff, associate professor of journalism and Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies, delivered the keynote address, “Well Worth Saving: How American Universities Selected Faculty Fleeing Nazi-Era Europe.”

Viola notes, “There’s real significance in Holocaust Awareness. The world today is not free of hate or individuals and groups that target peoples. With programming like this, you spread an awareness of the past in an effort to prevent such events in the future.”

SIDEBAR: Civic Sustainability Programming


The Presidential Council on Inclusion and Diversity launched the Conflict, Civility, Respect, Peace series earlier this year to spark conversations about the challenges and promises of increasingly diverse societies. Here are the topics that drew the Northeastern community together this spring semester.

Understanding Hate (Feb. 25)
Professor Michael Dukakis led faculty panelists in a discussion on hate crime, intergroup relations, and campus climates.

I Am Northeastern: Northeastern Students Build Community and Peace (March 20)
A panel of students reflected on their experiential learning and whether these experiences should make students’ “I am Northeastern” pledge—a vow to promote a peaceful living environment for students and the surrounding community—more ambitious.

Northeastern Holocaust Commemoration (April 8)
(see story above)

The Boston Marathon Bombing and Its Aftermath: A Conversation with Northeastern Faculty Experts (April 24)
A panel of faculty experts examined issues—hate as a motivation for crime, community resilience, the dangers of misreading religious motivations, and the role of social media—raised by the bombing and the search for its perpetrators.

Click here for information on fall Conflict, Civility, Respect, Peace programming.