Category: News and Events

CAS Launches New Minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies

November 2nd, 2016 in News, News and Events

Photos of Nazi Holocaust victims at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum

Photos of Nazi Holocaust victims at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. Study of the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis are part of a new CAS minor in Holocaust and genocide studies. Photo by Flickr contributor Pete Speers.

In launching a new minor in Holocaust and genocide studies at the College of Arts & Sciences, faculty hope that BU students won’t just learn history, but learn from history. Students will study how the 20th century’s most horrific state-sponsored mass murders, from the Nazi Holocaust to Pol Pot’s wholesale slaughter in Cambodia to Rwanda’s deadly rampage against its Tutsis, evolved. As well, the new minor will offer historical context and teach humane vigilance, says Nancy Harrowitz, a CAS associate professor of Italian, who is teaching the minor’s required course, History of the Holocaust. The minor is being offered through the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies.

Instead of viewing these atrocities as distant in time and place, an emphasis is being placed on studying them as a mirror to present-day conflicts and simmering hatreds. The multimedia coursework also answers the more urgent question, could it happen again? The answer is yes—in fact, as the coursework illuminates, attempts at genocide could likely rise from many simmering ethnic, religious, and political conflicts in the world today.

Through study of world genocide in the 20th and current centuries, “we are protecting memory,” says Harrowitz. “How do you sustain these memories in the face of deniers?” she asks. “My argument has been: if we are not able to prevent future genocides per se, in the long term we can begin to illuminate the emotional aspects of hate through education.”

Hate is a learned emotion, says Simon Payaslian, the Charles K. and Elizabeth M. Kenosian Professor of Armenian History and Literature. “We’re not born with it. It can be unlearned. Genocide can happen anywhere.”

Payaslian, who teaches courses in genocide prevention, notes in his course descriptions that the subject of genocide warrants rigorous study because genocidal acts and atrocities persist despite the 1948 United Nations adoption of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. The convention, criminalizing genocide in the realm of international law, was institutionalized in 1951, and yet it has failed to prevent the string of genocides that has occurred since then.

“Societies are always changing,” says Payaslian. “The question that’s absolutely essential is, what kind of leaders do you have? One of my classes covers the internment of Japanese Americans in the wake of Pearl Harbor. You can imagine how one more executive order could have put the Japanese against a wall and shot them.”

According to its description on the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies website, the minor in Holocaust and genocide studies offers students “an opportunity to acquire basic academic tools of description and analysis of the various factors that contribute to the emergence of ultranationalist regimes and their genocidal policies.” The minor is also designed to help students “develop an awareness of the value of pluralism and an acceptance of diversity, as well as to explore the dangers of remaining silent, apathetic, and indifferent to the vilification and oppression of others.”

Images of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia hang in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Phnom Penh

Although genocides large and small have been perpetrated throughout human history, the courses will focus on historical events since 1900. These include the Armenian genocide of 1915, when the Turkish-led Ottoman Empire had rounded up and deported or executed 1.5 million Armenians living there, most of them Ottoman citizens, by 1922; the Nazi Holocaust, from 1933 until the Allied liberation of the death camps in 1945, which claimed the lives of six million Jews and five million Slavs, Roma, disabled people, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political and religious dissidents from the European countries occupied by Germany; the Cambodian genocide, from 1975 to 1979, when the Maoist Khmer Rouge led by Pol Pot slaughtered an estimated three million; the Serbs’ “ethnic cleansing” of Bosnians in the wake of the 1992 collapse of the former Yugoslavia, killing 100,000; the 1994 Hutu-led killing rampage in Rwanda, which targeted Tutsis and moderate Hutus and slaughtered more than 800,000 over 100 days; and most recently, this century’s Sudan state-sanctioned murder of at least 300,000 Darfurian civilians in what is now South Sudan.

Harrowitz’s class includes writings by Holocaust survivors Primo Levi and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel (Hon.’74), BU’s Andrew W. Mellon Professor Emeritus in the Humanities and a CAS professor emeritus of philosophy and religion, who died in July, and Hannah Arendt, author of the seminal book Eichmann in Jerusalem.

“I’ve been interested in the Holocaust since I was very young, when I read about Anne Frank in fourth grade,” says film and television major Nadia Cross (COM’17), one of the first two students who signed up for the minor. She says she “was really struck by the injustices of our world, so I’ve been interested for a long time, and the minor is a gateway to learning more.”

One of the eternally relevant aspects of the coursework is its focus on bystander complicity and the notion that to do nothing in the face of lethal injustice is nearly as bad as perpetrating it. “It’s definitely something I’ve learned a lot about, something I can apply to my life,” Cross says.“We have to defend people who don’t have a voice.” Her ideal job would be to work at the United States Memorial Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

Students minoring in Holocaust and genocide studies must complete six four-credit courses, two required and four open electives. Among the courses are The Armenian Genocide, European Fascism, Prevention of Genocide, History of International Human Rights, and Jewish Bioethics and Holocaust Studies.

The program, which launched in September, had a celebratory kickoff in October with a preview screening of the feature film Denial, based on Deborah E. Lipstadt’s book History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, starring Rachel Weisz as the author. Lipstadt, an Emory University professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies, attended the screening at the Coolidge Corner Cinema and spoke at the reception that followed at the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies.

Story by BU Today’s Susan Seligson.


2016 Leo Baeck Undergraduate Essay Award Winner

June 22nd, 2016 in News and Events, Uncategorized

This spring marked the second year of The Leo Baeck Institute-NY Essay Prize in German-Jewish History and Culture.

EWCJS is pleased to announce Mr. Jesse Gamoran as the winner of our 2016 Leo Baeck Essay Award, with his essay entitled The Munich Visiting Program, 1960-1972. Mr. Gamoran graduated this past May from Oberlin College, where he studied Jewish history and German Studies. Starting this July he’ll be participating in the Congress-Bundestag Youth Exchange for Young Professionals, a yearlong study-intern program in Germany. In addition to Jewish history, Jesse has interests in education and library science.

The prize money was gifted by Bernard Bloom, former president of the Leo Baeck Institute, and awarded by the Elie Wiesel Center in conjunction with the Leo Baeck Institute in New York. To compete, students were asked to submit an essay of between 4,500 and 7,500 words on any topic related to the history and culture of German-speaking Jews, along with faculty letters of commendation.

Honorable Mention was awarded to Ms. Madelyn Stone, a student at Northeastern University, for her essay entitled “Reality is the Satire”: The Will to Hope in the Writings of Jura Soyfer.

Congratulations Jesse and Madelyn for your excellent work, and thank you to all of the students who participated in the contest!

To see other scholarship opportunities for undergraduate students, click here.

Erin Miller Featured in CAS Magazine

June 1st, 2016 in News and Events, Uncategorized

EWCJS minor, Erin Miller (CAS ’17, SPH ’18), was featured in the College of Arts and Science’s Magazine Spring 2016 for her dedicated research assistance with Dr. Grodin’s project on Rabbinic Responsa during the Holocaust. To read more about her contributions and the specifics of her research in halakhah and medical ethics, click HERE for the full article.

Singer’s Demons

October 5th, 2015 in News and Events, Uncategorized

Alexandra Herzog (Boston University): “Isaac Bashevis Singer’s Demons:
A Carnivalesque Journey”

Dr. Alexandra Herzog opened her BU Jewish Studies Forum talk on Isaac Bashevis Singer by asking, “Do we need demons in life?” Her close analysis of several Singer stories has led her to suggest that he  understood the supernatural as a naturally occurring force in his own inner life. He believed that demons are a necessity,  a vehicle for rebellion, protest, and questioning conventional notions of truth. Herzog’s talk prompted her assembled colleagues and students to further discuss various concepts of madness and the universal capacity to harbor demonic impulses.

A scholar of American Jewish literature and Gender Studies, Dr. Herzog noted that the Talmud says that madness must be experienced in moderation, as life is “sometimes sane, sometimes, insane.” Singer believed that madness is inescapable because “the world of matter and deeds is an insane asylum.” This perspective explains his frequent mockery of “order” in stories about reversed societal and gender roles, in which women’s bodies become battlegrounds for demonic possession, and stories in which mental illness offers an escape from social reality. Singer’s ending for these tales is always the same, Dr. Herzog noted: “carnivalesque” laughter and the horror of demons force order to unravel and signal the character’s descent into madness.

For more information on Dr. Herzog, see

Rosh Hashanah Student Welcome/Back Party

September 9th, 2015 in News and Events

Students gathered at the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies to meet, enjoy Middle Eastern sweets, and listen to live music performed by the Rinat Tregerman Trio.

The event took place on September 15, from 8pm, and was held at the Second Floor Library of 147 Bay State Road.

Leo Baeck Essay Award Winner

June 26th, 2015 in News and Events

We are pleased to announce Jonathan Catlin as the winner of our 2015 Leo Baeck Essay Award with his essay entitled “Anti-Semitism” and “Judaism” in Dialectic of Enlightenment: A Jewish Answer to the Jewish Question. 

Mr. Catlin is a graduating senior at the University of Chicago, where he received honors in Jewish Studies and the Great Books program, Fundamentals: Issues & Texts. His work examines the concept of “catastrophe” in modern Jewish thought, drawing upon Holocaust studies, psychoanalysis, and the Frankfurt School of critical theory. He has served as an editor of Makom, a journal of Jewish studies, and editor-in-chief of The Midway Review, a journal of politics and culture, and published numerous essays on the Holocaust in contemporary thought and literature. After completing an MA in continental philosophy at KU Leuven, Belgium next year, he plans to pursue a PhD in modern European intellectual history to study German-Jewish intellectuals’ responses to the Holocaust.

Honorable Mention was awarded to Mary C. Andino, a sophomore at the College of William and Mary, for her essay entitled Navigating Gender, Morality, and Economy: Glückel of Hameln’s Wide Window into the Complex World of German Jewry, 1670-1720.

Congratulations Jonathan and Mary for your excellent work, and thank you to all of the students who participated in the contest.

Mazal Tov 2015 Graduates!

May 14th, 2015 in News and Events

Congratulations to our graduating Jewish Studies minors:

Samantha Cohen (COM ’15)

Andrea Firestone (Questrom ’15)

Benjamin Harris (CFA ’15)

Robyn Klitzky (COM ’15)

A New Musical and More

March 3rd, 2015 in News and Events

On Thursday and Friday March 5 & 6, 20015, the Elie Wiesel Center transformed into an enchanted forest for Matti Kovler’s “Ami and Tami,” a modern take on the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel, originally written in Hebrew and here performed in English for the first time. On Thursday, doors opened at 5 pm for music, food, and a forest-creature fashion show.

Part of the Floating Tower series. See the full calendar of events here.

Ami and Tami are two imaginative siblings living in a strict and ambitious family. Their parents object to the children’s foolish ideas and see time management, wealth, and success as the primary goals in life. The children are thus forbidden from playing in the dark forest outside their house.

One night the children decide to disobey their parents’ orders and run off into the forest. Guided by a talkative troll named Imf and a cabaret of Singing Lice, they discover a wonder-world of adventures and magical creatures.

But the forest has its monsters too. After falling into the clutches of Yaga the Witch and the Evil Ogre Humm, Ami and Tami narrowly escape with the help of their new friends. Back at home, the frightened parents reconsider their ways. The ending scene shows the whole family joining in an imaginary game.

Thursday, March 5 at 6 pm and 8 pm
Matinée: Friday, March 6 at 2:30 pm
Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies
147 Bay State Road

The Annual Leo Trepp Lecture

March 3rd, 2015 in News and Events

On March 2, at our second annual Leo Trepp Lecture, Dr. Neil Gillman, Professor Emeritus of Jewish Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and a leading theologian of Conservative Judaism, reflected on his theological journey from 1950s Quebec to the Jewish Theological Seminary, where he was the first North American scholar to hold a position in Jewish theology.  The lecture, which was held at the Florence and Chafetz Hillel House at BU, will be made available as a podcast and in print.

Yair Lior on Kabbalah and Neo-Confucianism

January 26th, 2015 in News and Events

At our first BUJS forum of 2015, Visiting Researcher Yair Lior (Religion) traced cross-cultural patterns in the development of Kabbalah and Neo-Confucianism. Both movements radically altered the canons of established traditions but were nevertheless able to achieve legitimacy. Dr. Lior will compared these two case studies and considered a broader question: how do religious traditions adapt to cultural change?

February 18, 2015 at 12:30 pm
Elie Wiesel Center for Judaic Studies
147 Bay State Road, Second Floor