Sommerhauser gift helps UNL expand Holocaust education

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With human persecution and injustice continuing to take place around the world, teaching about the Holocaust remains as relevant and crucial as ever.

A gift to the Harris Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln will provide resources to research methods for teaching about the Holocaust and intolerance and to help prepare educators for this important responsibility.

Nebraska alumni and siblings Peter Sommerhauser of Milwaukee, Wis., and Eileen Sommerhauser Putter of Seattle, Wash., donated $100,000 to the University of Nebraska Foundation to establish the Lou Sommerhauser Fund for Holocaust Education. The permanently endowed fund will provide annual resources to the Harris Center, which is leading an effort to evaluate and develop Holocaust teaching methods.

The Sommerhauser family provided the fund as a lasting honor to their father, Lou Sommerhauser, and to their grandparents, Albert and Babette Sommerhauser, who were murdered in a Nazi concentration camp during the Holocaust.

About honoring her father, Eileen Putter said, “Lou was an amazingly resilient, intelligent, hard-working, generous and loving man. He has continued to remain a major influence in our lives.”

With the private support, the university is among the first leading efforts to evaluate how Holocaust education is taught within higher education and developing verified instructional methods, all with the goal of empowering students to challenge intolerance.

“We are impressed with the efforts in teaching methods developed by the Harris Center and hope that such efforts will help reduce the kinds of intolerance that existed during the Holocaust era,” Peter Sommerhauser said.

UNL Chancellor Harvey Perlman thanked the Sommerhauser family for its generosity and for enabling Nebraska to take this leadership role. “I have known the Sommerhauser family for many years,” he said. “Their story is uniquely American, and we are honored to associate their name with the Harris Center for Judaic Studies and its important programs and mission.”

The Holocaust education project is a multidisciplinary effort led by the Harris Center for Judaic Studies and co-led by Gerald Steinacher, assistant professor of history and the Hymen Rosenberg Professor of Judaic Studies; Ari Kohen, associate professor of political science and the Schlesinger Professor for Social Justice; and Jon Pedersen, associate dean of the College of Education and Human Sciences.

Kohen, who is director of UNL’s Forsythe Family Program on Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, said he appreciates the support from the Sommerhauser family to advance Holocaust education.

“This new support from the Sommerhauser family will allow us to design an annual workshop that brings experienced Holocaust educators and researchers together for high-level discussions of time-tested and brand new ways to educate students about such an important topic,” he said.

Steinacher said UNL is well prepared for this project, as it has a well-established tradition of teaching and researching the history of the Holocaust.

“Academic interest in this and related topics is steadily growing, and in my class alone on the Holocaust I teach more than 140 students every year,” he said. “The Lou Sommerhauser Fund in Holocaust Education constitutes crucial support for expanding and strengthening our education efforts.”

Lou Sommerhauser was born in Nuremberg, Germany, in 1909 to Albert and Babette Sommerhauser. He married Leelo Eichbaum on March 14, 1937, in Germany and they immigrated to the United States in 1938. They lived in New York before making Lincoln, Neb., their home in 1949. They raised two children in Nebraska, Peter and Eileen. Lou died in 1972, and Leelo died in 2009.

Peter Sommerhauser is a graduate of the UNL College of Arts and Sciences and received a master’s from the UNL College of Business Administration before going to Northwestern University for a law degree. He’s a member of the College of Business Administration’s campaign committee and is married to alumna Elizabeth Higgins Sommerhauser, a graduate of the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences. They are trustees of the University of Nebraska Foundation.

Eileen Sommerhauser Putter is a graduate of the UNL College of Education and Human Sciences and received a master’s degree in urban education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. She is married to alumnus Howard Putter, a graduate of the UNL College of Arts and Sciences and the Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha.

The gift from the Sommerhauser family also provides support for the University of Nebraska’s Campaign for Nebraska: Unlimited Possibilities, a comprehensive fundraising initiative that concludes Dec. 31.

The University of Nebraska Foundation is an independent, nonprofit organization raising private gifts to support the University of Nebraska for more than 77 years. In 2013, donors provided the university with $236.7 million for scholarships, medical and other research, academic programs, faculty support and facilities. The foundation’s comprehensive fundraising campaign, the Campaign for Nebraska, has raised more than $1.5 billion for the university and concludes Dec. 31, 2014. For more information, visit

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