In Memoriam: Dr. Sidney Bolkosky

July 12, 2013 | Sharon Alterman

Dr. Sidney Bolkosky, distinguished professor of history, lost his long battle with cancer on June 14, 2013, and our community lost a brilliant scholar.

Thousands of Detroit-area residents have a deeper understanding of the Holocaust because of the work of Sidney Bolkosky. Many of us are familiar with his book, Harmony and Dissonance. The Voices of Jewish Identity in Detroit, 1914-1967, documenting the intellectual, cultural and social history of our community. Bolkosky undertook a daunting project in authoring Harmony and Dissonance because, at the same time, he was writing about people who were still alive – people with different interpretations of events. Sid said that was quite a challenge! The book is a tribute to his scholarship and a work that is encyclopedic in content collected before the establishment of the Leonard N. Simons Jewish Community Archives; documents were scattered and data difficult to obtain.

Boklosky was the recipient of many honors. He won all three of the highest faculty awards at U-M Dearborn, received the Jewish Historical Society’s Leonard N. Simon Award in 1991 and 1998, and he was honored with the Maas Prize for Achievement in Jewish Culture and Continuity for his work documenting the lives of Holocaust survivors.

The Maas tribute reads as follows:

Professor of History and Director of Honors at University of Michigan-Dearborn, he has taught and written on the Holocaust. In 1981, he began interviewing survivors for the Holocaust Memorial Center of Detroit. The testimonies grew into the Voices/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archives at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Many of the interviews have been posted on the World Wide Web.

Because of his work with the Archive, Bolkosky was invited to serve as a consultant for the film Testimony, an exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. He also served as a consultant and trainer for the Steven Spielberg Foundation Visual History Project. In 1986, Dr. Bolkosky and two colleagues produced A Holocaust Curriculum: Life Unworthy of Life, a widely used 18-lesson program for high school students. The project has been endorsed by Elie Weisel and Holocaust scholar Lucy Dawidowicz, who called it the finest curricular material available in the United States.

In Sid’s words:

“Chronically survivor testimonies helps students and anyone else who want to know about the Holocaust to learn what happened in a deeply personal way. Doing this work sometimes feels like an awful burden, but it’s the right thing to do.”

A tribute to Dr. Bolkosky can be found in the Detroit Jewish News, June 20, 2013 edition.


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