On a warm Tuesday afternoon, I sat down with History Professor Alon Confino. Confino is a caring man, with quick wit and a deep understanding of human nature. Confino was raised in Jerusalem and has enjoyed lecturing in many places around the world.
He is also a father — with children in college (one of his children is a Wahoo!). Confino has authored many books, most recently a work called A World Without Jews: The Nazi Imagination from Persecution to Genocide. The trailer for the book is below:
In your book you try to focus quite a bit on narrative and differing points of views. Why do you think this is important?
I’m interested in the stories that people tell themselves about their lives. We tell ourselves lots of stories about who we are. We change our stories as we go along. These stories give meaning to our life and to our identity.
I was very interested in the story that the Nazis told themselves when they exterminated and persecuted the Jews. When we do something bad… we better have a very good story to go along with it! We need it to justify it to ourselves.
What about your research surprised you the most?
I think we need to take evil people seriously. Listen to what they have to say. Evil people have a very good story of why they do certain things. Of course, some people are just nuts, but most people have a good story as to why they do certain immoral things. We don’t have to be OK with it of course, but we have to understand WHY they say these things.
The Nazis were people who were a part of OUR culture and OUR society. They were not people who came from Mars. That is a part of our civilization that has an intolerance towards minorities… this is one big lesson that we can learn from.
And onto a lighter note…
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Well, I like to play the clarinet. It’s something that I only started to do recently and I’d like to get better at it. I think life is too short, I’m never going to play well (laughs), but I’m going to try my best!
As long as you’re passionate about it.
That’s right. Oh! And recently I’ve really started to enjoy cooking.
Is there a piece of advice that you find yourself using often?
Confino takes a moment to think.
… Be… modest. Yes. Let other people talk about you.
What is something you want your students to know about you?
I always tell my students how contingent our choices are in life. When I went to study history, I knew what history was, but sometimes you choose something based upon a whim. I don’t want my students to think… I want to them to understand that Professors are also human beings and there is a lot of unpredictability in our lives and that’s what I like to teach … that life has the ability to change and to surprise you.
What has been your most rewarding moment as a Professor?
I’ve recently began teaching this class called Palestine 1948 and it’s difficult class, with lots of readings and a difficult topic. But it’s really rewarding to me to see the students take it really seriously and study really hard. They also show it in their recommendations. One of them wrote me a year ago that it was a life-changing course. And I thought my God, I should retire, because for me it all goes down-hill from there! I was very happy.
Post by Debbie Mosley (CLAS ’17)
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