Westward Ho: Landing a Summer Fellowship in Colorado

For college students who have no clue what they want to do in life, internships and summer jobs are, in the words of the wise and venerable DJ Khaled, major key. Of course, finding meaningful opportunities can be a struggle, but what I have found is that great chances can materialize in the least expected of places.

Every fall, Washington University hosts a Holocaust Memorial Lecture to commemorate the anniversary of Kristallnacht, the first point at which the Nazis’ discriminatory policies escalated into state-sanctioned acts of violence. Depending on the year, the university invites a guest lecturer to present on the Holocaust or a different genocide (last year’s speaker was Jay Winter, who discussed collective memory and the Armenian genocide). And they have brought some great speakers in the past; to name but a few, the list includes Elie Wiesel, Christopher Browning, and Michael Berenbaum. My freshman fall, the guest lecturer was Dr. David Shneer, a professor of Jewish studies, religious studies, and history at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

That evening, Professor Shneer presented research from his book, Through Soviet Jewish Eyes: Photography, War, and the Holocaust, and spoke a bit about an exhibit of the same name, which he had co-curated. As tends to be the case with most lectures, I do not remember the nitty gritty details of Professor Shneer’s (though I do recall certain segments quite well). But what I do remember is how fantastic he was at speaking. Not only did he look comfortable on the floor of the lecture hall, he looked like he was having fun. We were only ten minutes in when I whispered to my friend Shosh, “this guy is good.”

Lecture ended, people asked a bunch of questions. Professor Walke, whose Holocaust & Migration course I was taking at the time, saw Shosh and me standing off to the side, and asked if we wanted to ask Professor Shneer a few questions. (We did). We started chatting a bit, the four of us, and somehow, wound up in a pretty interesting conversation about the Holocaust by Bullets as Professors Shneer and Walke walked to the parking lot. Just as we split paths, he handed me his card and said to stay in touch.

Because we had talked a bit about a paper I was working on while we walked, I e-mailed Professor Shneer a couple of times as it progressed. When, after speaking at Lakeside this January and feeling unsure where to go next, I e-mailed him asking how Holocaust historians do what they do and, moreover, how I could find something that would allow me to develop those skills over the summer. His answer was really cool, and I think, probably one of the reasons he is a great speaker, but I won’t go too far into the details on that one, beyond the fact that he looks for something he’s learned that has surprised him, and asks why it surprised him. Then, he finished up his e-mail by asking if I would be interested in working at the Mazal Holocaust Collection’s Summer Lab. (Yes, I very much would be.)

I applied, and the rest, of course, is history.