Before the 1980s, most of us knew little about our brethren from “there” who, after the war, came “here.” They were mostly silent about the past; they did not feel welcomed to speak; they kept their experiences to themselves. Then things changed; they opened up, they related their stories, they taped their testimonies; they built their institutions of memory, they claimed their own past(s). Sid Bolkosky was at the center of this transformation, creating a new world of knowing and understanding together with all those he interviewed, then enhancing the representation of their memory through creating and building the Voices/Visions archive.
In the process, he taught all the rest of us about history, testimony, listening, knowing, being human, being empathetic. He taught us about not seeking “lessons” in the Holocaust (boy, I remember his frown when he said “lessons”); he taught us about being attentive, about asking good questions, about setting things in comparative frameworks, about truly listening…. Sid made human experience his subject, and he constantly asked how we could know more, understand better, reach further. He was a friend to the survivors and they appreciated him.
I feel privileged to have known him as a fine colleague and fellow historian and first rate teacher, to have written for him for the Stirton Professorship at UM-Dearborn, to have hosted him at MSU on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the Rabin Holocaust Lecture (our annual Holocaust event at MSU), to have learned so much also from his work in Dissonance and Harmony on Detroit Jewry, and to have continued to learn personally from his strength and example during these last tough years. We send our condolences on Sid’s death to Lori and the family and honor Sid and a life well lived.
Michigan State U.