Diversity Champion: Dr. Amy Simon

January 26, 2022 - Liz Schondelmayer

Champion Dr. Amy Simon is the inaugural William and Audrey Farber Family Chair in Holocaust Studies and European Jewish History, joining the Spartan family in 2016. A social scientist in the Michigan State University Department of History as well as the James Madison College and the Serling Institute for Jewish Studies and Modern Israel, Dr. Simon's research focuses on how diaries from those who experienced the Holocaust can give us a new perspective on the victims and perpetrators of the genocide.

Dr. Simon became interested in researching this topic as a junior in college at the University of Texas after visiting Berlin, Germany. She recalls feeling "struck" by the ubiquity of World War II history present in the city. 

"I was struck by the knowledge that I, a Jewish person, would have been murdered just because of my religious identity had I been born in that time and place," Dr. Simon explained. "I had an epiphany that understanding and teaching this history was essential, so I began my journey to do so which took me across three continents and fifteen years to finally end up as an assistant professor of Holocaust Studies at MSU."

As a researcher of the Holocaust, Dr. Simon has discovered a portal into the lives and minds of those who experienced it: diaries. Through her work, she extracts and examines how diarists perceive the events unfolding around them, and uses those first-person accounts to promote empathy and understanding among her students and fellow researchers.

In 2020, Dr. Simon published two works in this area: an article titled "Imperfect Humans and Perfect Beasts: Changing Perceptions of German and Jewish Persecutors in Holocaust Ghetto Diaries" in the Journal of Jewish Identities , and a book chapter titled "Teaching with Holocaust Diaries: Voices from the Chasm" in the collection, "Understanding and Teaching the Holocaust."

"My article is really about the deep questioning of humanity forced by experiences of horrible atrocity and about the diarists’ attempts to maintain some personal agency, even as their external power diminished," explained Dr. Simon. 

"And the book chapter moved me into a new area of research: Holocaust pedagogy. I really enjoyed studying the ways diaries written during the Holocaust have (and more often have not) been used in Holocaust pedagogy and offering some of my own techniques for doing so effectively."

Dr. Simon doesn't just research the Holocaust; she also teaches it. As the Farber Family Chair in Holocaust Studies, she instructs students on topics ranging from Jewish history to Holocaust narratives to general antisemitism. After taking a class with her, Dr. Simon hopes that students walk away with a conscious empathy and understanding for those experiencing oppression.

"After they leave my class, I hope that students will approach both historical actors and people they encounter today who may have different beliefs or identities more empathetically. I hope they will be more aware of the impacts of the Holocaust on pretty much all aspects of our world today, and that they will pay more attention to Jewish issues, including antisemitism, that they encounter in the media and/or in their lives," she reflected. 

Finally, in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, Dr. Simon shares how each of us can honor the lives lost in the genocide by keeping Elie Wiesel’s famous statement in mind: "We have learned that when people suffer we cannot remain indifferent."

"Learn as much as we can about it, think about its implications in our world today, show care and concern for people undergoing oppression at home and abroad, and pay attention to and fight hateful rhetoric," said Dr. Simon. "Think about how to battle that indifference in our lives."


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