History of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide

The Center was formally constituted in February 1987 for the purpose of providing education about the origins, nature and consequences of the Holocaust. In recent years, the Center has broadened and expanded its focus to include the study of issues surrounding other historical and modern genocides. The primary activities of the Center have been weekly, public Holocaust Lectures throughout the Spring Semester each year; the development of Holocaust resource materials (publications, videotapes, etc.) for campus, school, and public use; and cooperative efforts with a community-based group, the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust, to provide Holocaust education in the SSU service area schools. In Fall 2002, the position of the Director of the Center became part of the Department of Sociology in the School of Social Sciences. The Director of the Center, Emerita Professor Myrna Goodman, Sociology, has spent 17 years as a Holocaust and genocide scholar.

The Founding of the Holocaust Studies Center

A combination of factors led to the establishment of the Center on the Sonoma State University campus. Dr. John Steiner, Emeritus Professor of Sociology at SSU a Holocaust scholar and a survivor of the death camps of Auschwitz and Dachau, assumed a leading role in the development of the Center. Steiner is the only known holocaust survivor to have gone back and confronted former members of the SS and the Wehrmacht, including several high-ranking Nazi officials. He has conducted a large number of interviews with perpetrators and is a renowned authority on topics such as concentration camps and the SS. More information about Dr. Steiner's work can be found on his website at http://www.sonoma.edu/users/s/steiner/. Over the years more than fifteen permanent faculty from disciplines throughout the University have been involved on a regular basis in the Center’s efforts to provide an interdisciplinary education on the Holocaust and genocide to both the SSU campus and to the larger community.

The Role of the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide

The activity of the community-based Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust was another important factor in the development of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust at SSU. Made up of representatives from various local organizations, synagogues and churches, the Alliance grew out of an ad hoc committee responsible for organizing annual Holocaust Commemorative Services at Sonoma State, beginning in 1980. Two years later, the ad hoc committee formed an “alliance” of various community organizations to cooperate with University faculty in the creation of the highly successful Holocaust Lectures. Today the cooperation between the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide (formerly The Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust) and the Center for the Study of the Holocaust & Genocide (formerly the Center for the Study of the Holocaust) represents a highly successful University-Community partnership.

The Development of the Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series

Since its inception, the Holocaust Lecture Series has attracted distinguished speakers from throughout the world, representing disciplines that range from History to Philosophy to Biology to Political Science as well as many others. The lectures have been offered for academic credit since the 1983-84 academic year. The Lecture Series is a highly sought after and important course in the General Education program. The course regularly enrolls over 100 students each Spring semester. The Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series is housed within the School of Social Sciences in the Department of Political Science. Professor Diane L. Parness, Ph. D., is the Academic Coordinator of the series.

The Holocaust Lectures have been strengthened by the participation of Holocaust survivors, liberators and rescuers as well as the contributions of active researchers in the field. Indeed, perhaps the most powerful aspect of these lectures is the inclusion of personal eyewitness accounts of Holocaust survivors and more recently survivors of the Rwandan, Cambodian, and Bosnian genocides. A different theme is selected each year in order to encourage a variety of perspectives and interpretations. The speakers, students and the general audience are challenged to face the difficult subject of human destructiveness and to reflect on the multiple and interdependent causes of genocide. Students are encouraged to examine the issues of individual accountability and to formulate ideas about the prevention of genocide in the world. Lecture Series faculty regularly receive comments from students about how the information taken from the Series will help them live more ethical and meaningful lives.

Projects Associated with the Center

The Holocaust & Genocide Memorial Grove at Sonoma State University is designed to honor survivors and victims of the genocides committed throughout the world, including the Native American Genocide, the Armenian Genocide, the Jewish Holocaust, the Cambodian Genocide, the Rwandan Genocide, and the current-day genocide in Darfur. Another aim of the monument is to recognize educators, scholars and activists working for awareness, tolerance and human rights across the globe.

Situated in a tranquil lakeside setting on the University campus, the Grove provides a setting for contemplation and remembrance. Hundreds of bricks display the messages of love, honor and hope. This project was launched by a few people with a budget of hope and promise, the joint efforts of the Sonoma State University School of Social Sciences, The Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, The Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust, and donor principal donor Mr. David Salm. It was made possible, too, by the generosity of the whole community and especially the businesses who have extended themselves in a most meaningful way to affirm the phrase “Never again.”

The Anne Frank Tree at Sonoma State University is housed within the Holocaust and Genocide Memorial Grove. The Anne Frank Sapling Project came to life in 2009, when The Anne Frank Center USA awarded 11 sites a sapling derived from the nearly 200 year-old horse chestnut tree that towered behind the Secret Annex, where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Nazis from 1942-44. Sonoma State was awarded one of the saplings because "The panel felt that your site 'connected all the dots' by writing an inspiring proposal, drawing all aspects of tolerance together. Your Center for the study of the Holocaust, created by Dr. John Steiner (Dachau and Auschwitz survivor),your membership including Hans Angress,a Berlin Jew who attended school with Anne Frank,and your inclusion of educational programs on other genocides in the world. We particularly like the concept that the sapling would be placed near the Martin Luther King sculpture -and the fact that both were born in 1929, both slain by ignorance and hatred - both lives committed to contribute to human dialogue." - Yvonne Simons of The Anne Frank Center, USA

For almost three years, SSU nurtured the quarantined sapling that arrived from the Netherlands in late 2009. The sapling was planted April 14, 2013 at the Erna and Arthur Salm Holocaust & Genocide Memorial Grove at Sonoma State University near the campus lakes. The ceremony also honored Helena Foster, a Holocaust survivor who donated to SSU for a circle of 18 trees to be planted near the sapling. The Anne Frank Sapling was around 5 feet tall when it was planted and continues to thrive.