Before she was employed by Chapman, a maintenance worker at Barnard University often came into Marilyn Harran’s office to check on her because he felt she worked a lot. One day he brought her something. He pulled out pieces of old brown wrapping paper. On the papers were pictorial abstractions of the Holocaust drawn in coal. His wife, a survivor, drew them before she died.
This moment shaped Harran’s passion for culture and history, and she is determined to help leave behind a similar energy on Chapman’s campus.
“I want to make sure before the time that I’m not here that we have strong, diverse programming that can continue to develop in new and exciting ways,” said Harran.
While keeping Holocaust stories alive became a passion of Harran’s, founding director of the Rogers Center for Holocaust Education at Chapman University wasn’t originally on her radar. Before the Rogers Center and the memorial library, Harran was teaching religious studies at Barnard University for nine years. She originally came to Chapman in 1985 to teach reformation and renaissance history courses that also cross referenced with religion. Her teaching eventually led to the position she holds today.
“The job and I got invented about the same time,” said Harran.
The Rogers Center, a program dedicated to Holocaust education, wasn’t founded until 2000, and the Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library until 2005. Before then, Harran and her colleagues got together to create first semester courses for new students. Her Holocaust history classes started to gain momentum with good reviews from students. From there, the Holocaust History minor and Harran’s job were created.
Harran said she is most passionate about finding ways to translate history, especially for students. Turning history into a story is important in helping people learn about and enjoy history.
She has helped survivors like Leon Leyson (one of the youngest members of Schindler’s list who passed away in 2013) translate their stories into written memoirs.
Harran is currently finishing up a book on survivor Elie Wiesel’s talks. She said another survivor-turned-rescuer story is currently in the works as well.
“Not only is she energetic, but she energizes everyone around her,” said Bill Elperin, president of the 1939 Society, a community dedicated to Holocaust education. He said Harran works day and night and is the most passionate person about Holocaust education.
Elperin said that one time he counted the amount of emails sent back and forth during a five year period. There were 10,000 emails between them.
“She’s a trooper,” said Holocaust survivor Henry Kress.
Kress said that if Harran was ever replaced, Chapman would need three people in her position to carry out the tasks she takes responsibility for.
Other than survivors she’s met through her job at Chapman, she remembers one mentor in particular who helped her realize a central problem: People didn’t really talk about the Holocaust. Harran studied with Stanford professor Heiko Oberman, who has since passed away, in Germany. He didn’t talk about it until he was in his fifties.
Harran decided she wanted to help people talk about their experiences during the Holocaust because she felt it was very important the stories not be lost.
Harran never knew the name of the man who showed her the drawings before she came to Chapman. She still remembers the impassioned scrawling of the images shown her in a time when not many survivors talked about their experiences. Since then, Marilyn Harran has continued to find ways to preserve stories like these.
“It continues to be a path of discovery,” Harran said.