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Erika Hughes gives students a new perspective on the Holocaust

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Erika Hughes

Students and citizens of Stillwater gathered Tuesday to learn more about the Holocaust from the view of the arts.

Erika Hughes gave her lecture “Performing Natality: Hannah Arendt, the Holocaust, and the Theatre of Action” at Oklahoma State University.

Hughes is an assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre and affiliate faculty in the Jewish Studies Program, Office for Veteran and Military Academic Engagement and Barrett Honors College. 

Hughes’ lecture focused on three politically distinct works about the Holocaust: the 2014 production of “Brundinar,” the performance classroom initiative “iWitness,” launched in 2015, and the 2015-2016 performance of “Hana’s Suitcase.” 

These lectures focused on youth performances that grapple with the difficult history of the Holocaust. Hughes used this lecture to examine the ways in which dramatic works that prominently feature young protagonists preform natality.

Angus Henderson, an art history major from Tulsa, said he went to the lecture because he knows people whose families were affected by this event.

“I’m attempting to learn about the past in order to avoid it in the future,” Henderson said. 

Henderson said he first learned about the Holocaust when he was younger. His mother had worked in a hospital when a Holocaust survivor came in.

“He told me a story when I was probably three years old, and I can’t even tell you what the story was about now, but I remember the feeling I had,” Henderson said. “It felt like the bottom had dropped out of the world.”

Hughes recruited two people from the audience to read a poem during her lecture over “Hana’s Suitcase.” Elizabeth Ohneck, one of the audience members chosen, said she attended the lecture because World War II is a part of history she would like to understand.

“She talked about the disconnect and how we can really understand, but I read a lot of literature, so I thought this was a perspective that I haven’t ever encountered before,” Ohneck said. 

Hughes discussed the recent election and the parallels between the Holocaust and the hateful rhetoric Americans are hearing now.

“I think that when you talk about the escalation of a hate rhetoric and speech, it’s impossible to not see certain parallels,” Hughes said.

Hughes said people have to be explicit when talking about bodies and groups that would keep refugees out, restrict people’s clothing or mark them or make lists based on religions. 

“I think that’s why this stuff is relevant to now,” Hughes said.

Entertainment.ed@ocolly.com