By Liz Lebron
New College of Florida established the Dr. Helen N. Fagin Holocaust, Genocide and Humanitarian Collection at the Jane Bancroft Cook Library in January 2008. At the time of its inauguration, the goal of the collection was to engage the New College community, general public and scholars from around the country in conversation about the Holocaust. New College faculty and library administrators recently approached Fagin about changing the name and focus of the collection to include human rights, a change the Holocaust survivor and retired professor of English welcomed.
The college held a ceremony Feb. 26, to rechristen the collection and pay tribute to Dr. Fagin’s contributions to scholarship at New College.
“Over the last dozen years, New College has benefited immeasurably from Dr. Fagin’s participation in our academic program,” said New College President Donal O’Shea, who recounted Fagin’s numerous guest lectures on campus and the 2011 commencement address students selected her to deliver.
O’Shea also announced the creation of the Dr. Helen N. Fagin Student Prize to encourage scholarship in the areas of the Holocaust, genocide, and human rights. The top undergraduate research paper will win a $500 prize and will be added to the collection, along with up to two honorable mentions.
The collection, henceforth called the Dr. Helen N. Fagin Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Collection, is now more closely aligned with Fagin’s “commitment to making this a better world through education and morality.”
“I am most proud of this place,” said Fagin, “which now is going to turn in the direction that is most needed, and that is protecting human rights all over the world, not just in the darker places but also the enlightened places like the United States of America.”
Rabbi Brenner J. Glickman of Sarasota’s Temple Emanu-El echoed Fagin’s hope in his remarks that young leaders will stand up for the rights of all people at home and abroad.
“New College is not an island. It is the pride of our greater community,” he said. “And to know that these minds will be entering this room and relearning the lessons for a new generation, maybe it gives us hope in this time of rising anti-Semitism, this time of rising xenophobia, not just in America and Europe but all over the world, that maybe this new generation of leaders, these students of New College, can be for us a shining new leadership toward a world of peace and of tolerance.”
“I want to thank you all for being so very, very generous to me,” Fagin told those who came to honor her work, “and for remembering me, not for who I am, but for what I did.”
Of her many accomplishments, Fagin is most proud of her work “as a teacher who had some guts to teach about morality [and] integrity where there was none to be bought.” Fagin began her lifelong career as an educator in a Polish ghetto during the Holocaust, where she taught children to help them escape from the reality of their everyday lives at great peril to her own.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Fagin read from “Our Legacy,” her testimony about the Holocaust. She spoke of a “legacy born of suffering, pain, dehumanization, and the loss of our loved ones” and passed on a “symbolic torch that carries the flame of responsibility for life and human dignity for all men, and women, and children of this world” to all who heard her voice and those who will know it through the books, documentaries and audio recordings that make up the Fagin Collection.
The Dr. Helen N. Fagin Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Collection is housed in a private room on the first floor of the Jane Bancroft Cook Library, a joint-use facility of New College of Florida and the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, located at 5800 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota, FL 34243. The general public is welcome to use the collection as a resource. For more information, contact the library at 941-487-4305. To support the collection, contact the New College Foundation at 941-487-4800.
— Liz Lebron is associate director of communications and marketing at New College of Florida.