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History Professor Creates Holocaust Essay Prize

Endowed essay prize recognizes academic excellence in Holocaust Studies

A U of T professor who was awarded restitution for family property plundered by the Nazis during the Second World War has used the funds to create a prize for the best student essay on the Holocaust.

Jacques Kornberg, a professor emeritus of modern European history, received compensation from the Belgian government in 2006. The value of his family’s property was unknown, but under Belgian law Kornberg was eligible for the standard compensation of $34,000.

On the eve of the Second World War, Kornberg had left Belgium with his parents and sister. Decades later, he returned to uncover the details of his extended family’s fate. In the Belgian government archives in Brussels, he discovered that his grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins had all been deported to Auschwitz, where they were murdered in the gas chambers.

Kornberg, who has continued to teach Holocaust history since his retirement in 1998, decided to use the money to create a prize for graduate or undergraduate essays on a Holocaust topic. “The restitution is no consolation for me, and clichés about perpetuating my family’s memory are just soothing sentimentality,” Kornberg says. “Yet, to give in to cynicism and nihilism is granting Hitler an added victory.”

“Students have shown a strong interest in learning about genocide,” he adds. “I felt, therefore, that an endowed essay prize that recognized academic excellence and moral concern was a way of maintaining hope for the future.”

The Kornberg-Jerzierski Family Memorial Essay Prize in Holocaust Studies will be awarded for the first time in 2008.

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