Harvard loses in Holocaust in-fighting

April 17, 1998

Harvard University has lost the bulk of a $3 million (Pounds 1.8 million)gift to endow a chair in Holocaust studies because academic in-fighting prevented the selection of a candidate, writes Jon Marcus.

A search committee could not agree whether to teach the Holocaust as a study of the Jewish victims or the Nazi perpetrators, a three-year conflict aggravated by a high-profile feud over the same subject among three of the committee's top five prospects for the job: Daniel Goldhagen, Christopher Browning and Omer Bartov.

Associates said the donor, businessman and former New York deputy mayor Kenneth Lipper, was so frustrated by Harvard's indecision that he withdrew the gift, which he contributed in honour of a relative killed in the Holocaust. Mr Lipper has declined to discuss the controversy.

Critics, including some from within the university, complain that Harvard squandered the opportunity to take the lead as a US centre for Holocaust studies.

But Charles Maier, a history professor who presided over the search, said his committee could not agree on a suitable candidate, despite deliberating for three years. "We were right not to be rushed into an appointment that might not have been optimal," he said.

Dr Goldhagen is an associate professor at Harvard and the author of the 1996 book Hitler's Willing Executioners, which contends that average Germans and not just Nazi bosses were responsible for the killings of six million Jews. He reportedly was Mr Lipper's choice for the chair.

Dr Goldhagen publicly disputed the work of Dr Browning, a Holocaust historian at Pacific Lutheran University. Dr Browning, in turn, complained that Dr Goldhagen's attacks on his "honesty and integrity" had "reached a new low". Dr Bartov, a professor at Rutgers University, also has criticised Dr Goldhagen. The other candidates were Dan Diner, a history professor who has taught at German and Israeli universities; and Samuel Kassow, a professor at Trinity College in Connecticut.

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