This year, the study of the Holocaust has taken on a broader meaning at the Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center. It has always been my approach not to have our students view the Holocaust as merely a unique event in history and memorize only dates, actions and a list of heroes and villains. Instead, we view the Holocaust as the greatest hate crime ever committed. It was conceptualized, organized, staffed, funded, equipped and evaluated to make it an effective killing machine.
Yet this happened more than 75 years ago, and many students entering our programs have little knowledge of the Holocaust. In fact, many of the students who learned of the Holocaust in middle school or high school see it as something bordering on the realm of ancient history.
To address this concern, and to keep our commitment to the survivor community that they will not be forgotten, the Kupferberg Center has embarked upon several programs that give our students a dynamic view of the Holocaust and the tools they need to address the issues of the Holocaust that exist today.
Each semester for the past seven years, a group of two dozen students have met on a weekly basis to study the Holocaust. To many of these students the Holocaust is a revelation, as many countries in Asia and Africa do not include Holocaust studies or even any mention of it in their school systems’ curricula. To remedy this, we require these students to conduct an intensive interview with a local survivor.
The results are meaningful and highly compelling. Relationships are created between students and survivors that go far beyond the closing date of the semester. These interactions transform the students into social activists committed to telling and re-telling these stories, thereby providing survivors with the knowledge that their stories are real and will not be forgotten.
In partnership with Con Edison, the Kupferberg Center has created a Hate Crimes internship that allows our students to study the vicious acts perpetrated during the Holocaust and to seek ways of addressing hate crimes in their current experience. Students have received training and insights in dealing with hate crimes by exposure to such organizations as the NYPD, the Queens DA, the ADL, the Anti-Violence Project LGBT and the Sikh Coalition.
The Holocaust's horrors have forever scarred the world's physical and psychological landscape. Yet the modern imagination's ability to fully digest and process the vast complexities of these systematic atrocities has been compromised by the passage of time. Our children are increasingly desensitized by the glamorization of violence in popular entertainment, and are living in growing isolation promoted by the distancing effects of technology. Modern generations, whatever their background, struggle or refuse to grasp the hatred, greed, fear and indifference that resulted in this unparalleled tragedy. Six million Jews were methodically identified, detained, and murdered during the Holocaust. One and a half million of these were children, and more than twenty-three million people died in total. However, the staggering nature of these numbers is what also makes them hard to process. They are pure statistics that do not tell the full story. They do not explain or educate. We must continue to investigate the causes and results of personal and organized hatred, and celebrate those who reject and fight against it.
Education, research, and remembrance are central to the mission of the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives at Queensborough Community College. The Center acts as an ongoing witness to history. Through extensive research and documentation, and by chronicling the testimonies of survivors, the Center embraces the lessons learned from the Holocaust to each tolerance, to understand prejudice, and to embrace the lives and legacies of the survivors. It is through the details of their personal remembrances that we can educate future generations to recognize and reject the face of hatred so that what happened once will never happen again at any level.
The KHRCA places the role of education as its centerpiece. It houses an extensive and expanding collection of books, documents (including nearly 400 doctoral dissertations on microfilm), and audio-visual materials for use by students, teachers, scholars and any other interested persons.
Open to the public and free of charge, lectures investigating issues and events of the Holocaust are hosted each semester. Recent lectures explored topics including:
- The Legal Implications of the Holocaust
- Hate on the Internet
- Denying History: Who Says the Holocaust Never Happened, and Why Do They Say It?
- The Perversion of Germany’s Court System
- Could the Allies Have Bombed Auschwitz?
- Bringing Perpetrators to Justice at Nuremberg
In its unique role of remembrance through education, the Center is an invaluable resource for teachers and schools not only in the Borough of Queens but also for educational institutions throughout the city, Long Island, and as distant as La Porte, Texas and Vancouver, British Columbia.
It is the only Holocaust Center in the United States that publishes educational guides for middle schools and high schools, and presently assists schools throughout the state to comply with a New York State law mandating the inclusion of the Holocaust in the Social Studies/Global Studies curriculum. The Center also provides “Teachers’ Trunks” to schools, consisting of books and materials for an entire class.
Close to 50 schools, representing Catholic, Hebrew, public and independent elementary, middle and high schools, have employed educational materials from the Center during the last academic year. And additional 34 museums and educational organizations incorporated the Center’s resources and traveling exhibits into their work.
To date, over twenty exhibits, powerful and thought-provoking presentations of photographs, art, documentation and personal and historic narratives, have been hosted at the Center. These exhibits are curated by the Center’s Scholar in Residence, Rabbi Isidoro Aizenberg, and staffed by volunteers, many of whom are Holocaust survivors. Several exhibits have become traveling exhibitions sent to other institutions and museums throughout the country. Currently, eight exhibits are on loan to museums and educational institutions throughout the United States.
Visits by teachers and groups of students of all ages are encouraged, and are arranged to meet the age and interest levels of each group.
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