Mar. 6--On Tuesday evening, Stephen Feinstein was doing what he often did, giving a speech about the Holocaust. This one was at the Sabes Foundation Minneapolis Jewish Film Festival in Hopkins.
Suddenly he was at a loss for words. He was taken to Abbott Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis, where he later died. He was 64.
An international outpouring of grief has greeted the death of the world-renowned historian of genocide studies.
"Stephen Feinstein was involved in preserving the memory of those who perished in the Holocaust," Nobel laureate and concentration camp survivor Elie Weisel said in a statement. "All those who knew him will miss him."
Feinstein was the director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies and adjunct professor of history at the University of Minnesota.
"His classes on the history of the Holocaust had record student enrollments year after year," said center outreach coordinator Ellen Kennedy.
Previously, he taught at a number of colleges including the University of Wisconsin. He curated many art exhibits and spoke internationally about genocide.
He was also responsible for bringing the current exhibit, "Deadly Medicine," to the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul.
Feinstein's death is "the greatest loss to the Holocaust survivor community and to Holocaust teachings in general," said Holocaust survivor Henry Oertelt, who was a close friend of Feinstein for more than 30 years.
"It is a great personal loss and an irreplaceable loss to the community," he said.
Many remember Feinstein as both an academic and an activist for genocide prevention and justice.
"He was a beautiful combination of intellectual understanding and of a commitment to dealing with these challenging issues," said Mort Ryweck, who met Feinstein while directing the regional Jewish Community Relations Council.
Always with humor
And for a genocide historian, he was also quite funny.
From his impersonations of Donald Duck to the bumbling Kazakhstani "journalist" Borat, his humor helped others deal with the most horrific atrocities in history, all the while retaining a sense of dignity and compassion for all victims of genocide.
"By somehow making things inappropriately amusing, he was able to convey the truth and the absurdity of the Holocaust," Kennedy said.
Feinstein also took a deep interest in his students, staffing half of his department with U undergrads who had taken his classes and subsequently had become interested in genocide studies.
"I think he felt that they represented hope for a different and more positive future," Kennedy said.
'A great humanitarian'
The day before his death, colleagues planned to nominate him for the University of Minnesota Outstanding Service Award.
"More than anything else, he was a great humanitarian who believed that knowledge of the past could prevent atrocities in the future," Kennedy said.
Feinstein leaves behind his wife, Susan, his son, Jeremy, his daughter and son-in-law, Rebecca and Avi Winitzer, and two grandchildren, Sarah and Shammai.
Services will be at 2 p.m. Friday at Beth El Synagogue in St. Louis Park.
All memorials are to be directed to the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Kathryn Nelson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.
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