A moral imperative
April 25, 2012
We are writing to clarify what was written about the Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study in the cover story of the April 19 issue. The article, “Out of Focus?,” left the impression that because the Drew Center changed its name from Center for Holocaust Study to Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study in 2001, we have deemphasized the Holocaust as an atrocity aimed at the Jewish people, or that we have pushed a focus on the Holocaust aside. Nothing could be further than the truth. It is regrettable that the reporter did not take the time or opportunity to contact us and learn about our philosophy and practice.
First, our programming remains rooted in the Holocaust. We present an annual November conference commemorating Kristallnacht, an event aimed exclusively at the assault on Jewish people, and an annual spring Yom HaShoa event. At our most recent Yom HaShoa program on April 18, we hosted over 500 middle and high school students and their teachers at a screening of the film, Secret Lives: Hidden Children and their Rescuers during World War II, a film that tells the heart-wrenching story of children who were given away by their parents to other families in order to save their lives. In some cases, the parents survived and were able to reunite with their children after the war; in some cases not. What could be more iconic of the assault on Jews than parents desperate to give away their children in order to save them?
Second, we want to emphasize that for us study of other genocides does not obscure the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the Holocaust. Just the opposite; it actually highlights the ways in which the Holocaust is unique. As the distinguished Holocaust scholar, Michael Berenbaum, wrote in response to Jewish concerns about studying the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, “Only by understanding the fate of others…where it paralleled the Jewish experience and more importantly where it differed, can the distinctive character of the Jewish fate as a matter of historical fact be demonstrated.” We believe this is also evident in the study of comparative genocide.
Finally, it is important to note that what we learn about the Holocaust can be used to help us understand how other genocides evolve and their impact on survivors. To paraphrase Ervin Staub, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Massachusetts (and himself a survivor, rescued by Raoul Wallenberg), what better way is there to honor Holocaust survivors than to use what we have learned about the Holocaust to help others who have been similarly victimized — and even further to help prevent the victimization in the first place. Consistent with this view, our Center mission stems from the moral imperative articulated by the poet John Donne: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”
We agree with the editorial in the same issue of NJJN, which suggests that, when given the choice of exclusive focus on the Jewish experience during the Holocaust and the broadening of focus to include other genocides, “perhaps the only resolution lies in our ability to live, and teach, in the space between the two sides.” We at the Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study live in that space between the two sides — that’s what the “/” in our name is all about.
Professor Emerita, Psychology
Associate Professor of German Studies
Drew University Center for Holocaust/Genocide Study