Roman KentRoman Kent, right, chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, and his son, Jeffrey, joined students for a discussion followed by a public lecture last April.

Roman and Jeffrey Kent
An Intergenerational Dialogue at Middlebury

BY KARIN HANTA, PHD, PROFESSOR OF THE PRACTICE, LINGUISTICS/GENDER, SEXUALITY, AND FEMINIST STUDIES

My class on the Holocaust & Exile in Translation affords students an opportunity to try their hand at translation through different text types. Taught in collaboration with faculty from the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, we examine the depiction of the Holocaust and World-War-II-induced exile across different cultures and languages.

This past spring, my students translated Roman Kent’s children’s book My Dog Lala, and a chapter from his autobiography, Courage Was My Only Option, from English into their second language of study. They then had the opportunity to meet, hear from, and question the author and his son Jeffrey. Roman Kent is the Chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and served as the treasurer of the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany, as well as a member of their negotiating committee. Jeffrey Kent is a real estate investor and theater producer.

On April 3 and 4, the week leading up to Yom Hashoah, the Kents paid a visit to the class, which was also attended by students of Associate Professor of History Rebecca Bennette’s class, Genocides Throughout History. In a public lecture following the visit, Roman Kent engaged in an intergenerational dialogue with his son about his life story.

Born in Lodz, Poland, Mr. Kent spent the early war years in the Lodz Ghetto and survived, with his younger brother Leon, the Auschwitz, Mertzbachtal, Dornau, and Flossenbürg concentration camps. One sister, Renia Kopelman, also survived and was sent to Sweden at the end of the war, where she stayed, married and had three children. Roman and Leon arrived in the United States in 1946 under the auspices of the children’s quota of the Displaced Persons Act. They were placed with and cared for by a widow, Mrs. Marx in Atlanta, Georgia. After attending Emory University, Roman became a successful businessman in New York City, and his brother Leon went on to become head neurosurgeon of Kaiser in Los Angeles.

On April 4, Children in the Holocaust, a 1983 documentary Roman Kent coproduced, was screened as part of the Holocaust Film Fund series. Narrated by Liv Ullmann, the film featured interviews with adult survivors who recall the plight they endured when they were children during the Holocaust. Released three years before Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, this film helped usher in a rich stream of documentaries on the Holocaust. After the documentary, students and faculty members joined the Kents for a dinner at Brainerd Commons.

Members of the Middlebury community were moved by their meeting and interaction with Roman and Jeffrey Kent.”Roman is a living example of the highest level of human spirit despite devastating experiences,” said Susan Simmons, a business systems analyst at Middlebury, who attended the meeting. “To see his son Jeff play his role of support and furthering the outreach […] certainly added to the presentation.”