Obituary: Franklin Littell, Holocaust Scholar

Franklin Littell, 91, a renowned Holocaust scholar, died last Saturday (May 30, 2009) at his home in Merion Station, Pa. He had dedicated his life to bringing awareness of the subject to all the world. He is recognized as the father of modern Holocaust studies in the United States. According to John K. Roth, an emeritus professor at Claremont McKenna College, Littell "helped turn the tide on the awareness of Christian complicity".

Littell's interest in the Holocaust began in 1939 when he heard Adolf Hitler speak at a rally in Nuremburg, Germany. He was horrified by what he seen and heard. As a Methodist minister, he began to delve into the background of the Holocaust and was one of the first scholars to question why the Christian community in Europe either aided or completely ignored the murder of six million Jews. Littell was very bold in the reports of his findings. He felt that part of the reason why the European Christians stood by and did nothing during the Holocaust was that Christianity had shown contempt for the Jews and what they believed from its very beginnings. Littell was not afraid to confront the Church for its anti-Semitic views.

In 1975, Littell wrote a book called, The Crucifixion of the Jews. The focus of the book is the anti-Semitism of the Christian church, and includes a plea by Littell for the Church to deal with this major problem. When it was first published, the original publisher was so terrified by the negative reaction of Christian and Jewish leaders that he "let the book go out of print". Eventually, another publisher picked it up and it has been re-released. Littell was the author of more than two dozen books and more than 1,000 articles.

Aside from creating both the first doctoral program and the first interdisciplinary master's degree program in Holocaust studies, Littell also became an ardent supporter of Israel. He believed that the existence of the Jewish people refuted the replacement theology that is so prevelent in many Christian churches, even today. He also rejected the belief held by many Christian supporters of Israel that the Jews must ultimately convert to Christianity. In addition, Littell also founded the Christians Concerned for Israel and the National Christian Leadership Conference for Israel.

Littell was a founding member of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council. In 1979, he was the first Christian appointed to the International Governing Board of Yad Vashem, in Jerusalem.

[ Published: June 4, 2009 ]

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