Category: Reading and Writing

Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller to receive Wallenberg Medal

ANN ARBOR—Hungarian philosopher and Holocaust survivor Agnes Heller on Sept. 30 will receive the 23rd Wallenberg Medal, a humanitarian honor named after a University of Michigan alumnus who saved tens of thousands of Jews near the end of World War II.

After U-M President Mark Schlissel presents the award at 7:30 p.m. in Rackham Auditorium, Heller will hold a conversation with Scott Spector, professor of Germanic languages and literatures, history and Judaic studies.

Heller has spent her career seeking to understand the nature of ethics and morality in the modern world, and the social and political systems and institutions within which evil can flourish.

Like U-M alumnus Raoul Wallenberg, Heller has demonstrated that courage is the highest expression of civic spirit. She has witnessed regimes that have organized murder, crushed dissent and persecuted independent voices.

In 1944, as a young woman surviving in Budapest, she knew the name “Wallenberg.” Raised in a Jewish family, her father used his knowledge of German to help families emigrate from Nazi Europe. While Agnes and her mother avoided deportation, her father was sent to Auschwitz, where he died. She also lost many childhood friends in that terrible time.

Heller has said the Holocaust “exercised an immense influence on my whole life, particularly on my work,” and she believes she has “a debt to pay as a survivor.”

Her experiences during World War II led her to question the fundamental philosophical source of morality and evil in people and what kind of a world can allow horrific events like the Holocaust. She spoke out vigorously for autonomy and self-determination after the suppression of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956.

“My experience of the Holocaust was joined with my experience of the totalitarian regime,” she said. Both raised similar questions in what she calls her “soul search and world investigation…I had to find out what morality was all about.”

Following the defeat of the 1968 Prague Spring, she went into exile and became the Hannah Arendt Visiting Professor of Philosophy in the graduate studies program of The New School in New York. She is an influential scholar who publishes internationally acclaimed works on ethics, aesthetics, modernity and political theory.

In 2010, she was awarded Germany’s prestigious Goethe Medal.

Now retired from The New School, Heller has returned to Budapest, where she lives in a small apartment high above the Danube River. She remains fully engaged in public life, speaking out against the neo-nationalist and anti-Semitic strains that are again current there.

She actively argues against the policies of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his party, in light of their actions to strip universities of their independence and limit freedom of expression.

The current political climate in Hungary has made many university faculty members reluctant to speak out against policies implemented by the ministry of education.

Heller will be at U-M for four days, meeting with graduate and undergraduate students as well as faculty members.

A 1935 graduate of U-M’s College of Architecture, Wallenberg saved the lives of tens of thousands of Hungarian Jews when he served as a Swedish diplomat near the end of World War II.

In 1944, at the request of Jewish organizations and the American War Refugee Board, the Swedish Foreign Ministry sent Wallenberg on a rescue mission to Budapest. Over the course of six months, Wallenberg issued thousands of protective passports and placed many thousands of Jews in safe houses throughout the besieged city.

Reporting to Soviet headquarters in Budapest on Jan. 17, 1945, Wallenberg vanished into the Soviet Gulag. Although the Russians claim that Wallenberg died in 1947, the results of numerous investigations into his whereabouts remain inconclusive.

For more than 20 years, U-M has awarded its Wallenberg Medal annually to a humanitarian who has devoted his or her life in service to others.

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The Future of Mankind: Women Only

West Palm Beach, FL, October 21, 2013 – What happens when NY Times bestselling author Steve Alten’s new thriller, The Omega Project, opens with a Die-Off that wipes out most of mankind, paving the way. . . for women!

In Alten’s thriller, the world’s oil reserves finally run out, leading to war and mass starvation. Who knew that without petroleum used in pesticides, fertilizers, and farm equipment the world’s farms could only produce enough food to feed 500 million people? Well, Peak Oil experts knew, but no one listened, and so 6 billion people end up perishing in an event known as the Great Die-Off.

Three years after, the G.D.O. humanity turns to fusion. Six men and six women are selected for a mission to Europe to mine a rare element required in the mix. A super computer, GOLEM, will oversee the mining operations on Jupiter’s frozen moon, Europa. To prepare for the mission, the crew, along with Ike Eisenbraun, GOLEM’s programmer, train in a habitat beneath the Ross Sea in Antarctica where the crew and a reluctant Ike are to be cryogenically frozen for thirty days to prep for the eight month space flight. The plot takes a sudden turn of events when Ike awakens to find the habitat sinking, the ice gone and 12 million years have passed! Humanity went extinct, evolution has run amok, a new intelligence is in its infancy – and the computer that he programmed to insure humanity’s future has developed a God complex, cloning the female crewmember’s DNA while eliminating men from the equation.

Why men? “Think of things from the computer’s perspective,” says the author. “All wars have been initiated by human males, all religious conflicts, financial crises, drug wars, political corruption, gang violence, the poisoning of the environment, the energy crises – each event can be traced back to the Y chromosome responsible for the male ego. According to GOLEM, testosterone interferes with rational thought necessary for non-violent social skills. I guess you can blame the government shutdown on the male ego as well.”

Publishers Weekly calls The Omega Project “an exuberant thriller.” Barnes & Noble named The Omega Project as one of its top four selections for the summer and reviewers have called it an “epic tale.” Women seem to like it as much as men.

About the author:

Steve Alten, a native of Philadelphia, earned a bachelor’s degree from Penn State, a master’s degree from the University of Delaware, and a doctorate from Temple University. Alten is the bestselling author of the MEG series. The series is an international best seller and Hollywood has purchased the movie rights. Alten is also the founder and director of Adopt-An-Author, a free nationwide teen reading program.

2013-14 Great Michigan Read

The Michigan Humanities Council is pleased to announce its long-awaited 2013-14 Great Michigan Read title.

Annie’s Ghosts is part memoir, part detective story and part history. As the author, Washington Post associate editor and Detroit native Steve Luxenberg, tries to understand his mom’s reasons for hiding her sister’s existence, he takes readers on a journey into his mother’s world of the 1930s and ’40s, where he explores how a poor, immigrant family manages life with a child who has special needs. This is a story about family secrets, personal journeys, genealogy, mental disability and illness, poverty and immigration.

The Great Michigan Read, a program of the Michigan Humanities Council, is a free statewide initiative that aims to connect us together at Michiganians by exploring and discussing a common book. All Michiganians are invited to participate – organizations and businesses can register to partner and we can help connect individuals with local partners for participation options. All registered partners can receive free supplemental materials – reader’s guides, teacher’s guides, bookmarks and more. Select nonprofit partners are eligible to receive free copies of the book.

Pre-registration is now open for the 2013-14 Great Michigan Read featuring Annie’s Ghosts