History & Background
A combination of factors led to the establishment of the Center on the Sonoma State University campus. Dr. John Steiner, currently 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. In addition, 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 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. The cooperation between the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust and the Center for the Study of the Holocaust represents a highly successful University-Community partnership.
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 Director of the Center has coordinated the lectures, which have been offered for academic credit since the 1983-84 academic year. Originally offered under various departmental headings in the Schools of Social Sciences and Arts and Humanities,. In the Fall 2002, the Holocaust Lecture Series and the position of the Center Director of the Center became an integral part of the Department of Sociology. The Lecture Series is a well sought after and important course in the General Education program. The course regularly enrolls over 100 students each Spring semester.
The Holocaust Lectures have also 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. 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.