IN MEMORIAM: SUSAN LEE RIDDLE PENTLIN
February 9, 1947-December 25, 2013
By Nancy Rupprecht
Dr. Susan Lee Pentlin died of a massive heart attack at her home in Warrensburg, MO on Christmas Day 2013, after enduring a series of debilitating illnesses and conditions. Pentlin was a creative and dogged researcher, an original thinker, a scrupulous documentarian, and a talented writer. She was deeply committed to higher education, particularly to Holocaust education. Her life, like her work, was devoted to discovering, publishing, and preserving truth by exposing malfeasance, prejudice and hate as a teacher, scholar and concerned citizen.
Susan Pentlin was born, lived, wrote, taught and died in Warrensburg, MO, a mid-sized town outside Kansas City. In 1970 she joined the Modern Languages faculty at Central Missouri State College in Warrensburg (now the University of Central Missouri). From 1973-1974 she served as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher at Dom Gymnasium, Freising, West Germany. She also spent a year in 1974 as an instructor at the University of Kansas, while working on the doctorate that she earned in 1977. She taught German and Holocaust Studies at Central Missouri until her retirement in 2005, when she was honored with the title emerita.
Dr. Pentlin was an inspiring teacher and a prolific scholar. In addition to German courses, in 1979 she created and taught the first Holocaust course on her campus and chaired the CMSU Holocaust Committee for several years. She also was deeply committed to women’s issues and served as a founding member of the CMSU Women's Studies Committee, as well the Steering Committee of the "Women in Contemporary Society" symposium.
Dr. Pentlin published 34 scholarly articles, 29 book reviews, and presented approximately 70 papers at academic conferences. In addition, she was awarded eight grants and participated in a number of seminars and travel programs. As a Holocaust scholar, she is best known for editing Mary Berg's Diary: Growing up in the Warsaw Ghetto and, at her death, had almost completed I Jumped to Life: The Story of Bronia Roslawowski, Witness to the Gas Chambers with Maureen Wilt. She also served as editor of the newsletter of the Johnson County Historical Society, 2002-2009.
Among other offices, in 2009 Susan Pentlin was appointed to the Executive Committee of the Annual Scholar's Conference on the Holocaust and the Churches, one of the most prestigious conferences in the field of Holocaust Studies. She also was a member of the Board of Governors of the Midwest Holocaust Center beginning in 2005, a longtime Advisory Board member of the Remember the Women Institute, and, since 2000, served as the expert on Holocaust denial for the Middle Tennessee State University Holocaust Studies Program.
While she was not belligerent, once Dr. Pentlin committed herself to a cause she deemed worthy of fighting, she was an indefatigable campaigner. In 1993, when a racist, neo-Nazi organization called "The Champions of Reason" attempted to gain recognition at her university, Pentlin, along with anthropologist Cathy Hodge McCoid, exposed the true nature of the organization and prevented their leaders from establishing a beachhead of hate at CMSU. Similarly, Pentlin worked with Shelly Shapiro, Director of the Holocaust Survivors and Friends Education Center in Albany, NY, to help to exclude Holocaust denial from search engines as a subset of the history of the Holocaust.
Beyond academics, Dr. Pentlin worked tirelessly to preserve both human rights and animal rights. She lived by a wooded area where she fed the wild deer, birds, turkeys and other animals every day and supported animal rights organizations. In 2007 she discovered that Warrensburg city officials appeared to be willing to allow hunters to kill deer at the Lion's Lake wildlife preserve. Working with her friend Fay Evans, Pentlin led a campaign in the local newspaper and elsewhere that successfully saved the deer and other wildlife.
In response to Dr. Pentlin's work in the fields of academic, human and animal rights, In 1996 she received statewide recognition when she was appointed as the Commissioner for the 4th District, one of eleven members of the Missouri Commission on Human Rights. As a commissioner, she evaluated several important cases to restore justice to people who had been abused or discriminated against.
Obviously, Susan Pentlin's was a life well lived. She loved and respected her husband, family and friends, made important contributions to her profession, and made her university, her community and her state better places in which to live and work.
All who knew her and those who benefited from her intelligence, vigor, kindness and honor will mourn her passing.
Dr. Nancy Rupprecht is a Professor of History and Chair of the Holocaust Studies Program, Middle Tennessee State University, as well as a Remember the Women Institute Advisory Board Member.
The Remember the Women Institute welcomes essays pertaining to women and history for our on-line library. Suggested research topics include:
How the lessons of the Holocaust apply to women in the present and future
The effect of politics on memorialization of women in the Holocaust
Women in Ravensbrück and other Nazi concentration camps
Women in ghettos, resistance, and partisan groups
Relationships between sexism, anti-Semitism, and racism
· Women and genocide
· Women and migration
· Women and immigration
· Women and displacement
· Women in science and technology
· Women in inter-religious dialogue
· Women in religious worship
· Women in Jewish history
· Women in the university
· Marginalized women
Please contact Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel with your inquiries.
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