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Kupferberg Holocaust Center-NEH: Collaboration and Complicity: Introduction

Collaboration and Complicity

The scholarship on the Holocaust has increasingly transitioned from focusing exclusively on the perpetrators of violence against the Jewish population towards the enablers of Nazi policy and genocidal aims, which include complicity and collaboration on a massive scale. The theme of Collaboration and Complicity is imperative in understanding the complexities of the Holocaust as it raises accountability not only to individual bystanders who remained passive or complicit as the Reich started to implement genocidal policies but to larger institutions such as the governments of occupied territories in Europe, the larger international community, and institutions that were designed to protect vulnerable populations, such as the Red Cross. Moreover, the role that individuals played as either rescuers or collaborators spotlights the potential regular civilians can play in terms of either resisting forces of evil or enabling its expansion. At the heart of this theme, the question of what kind of agency individuals possess as their government tilts towards authoritarianism is paramount. Complicity and collaboration will be explored through a social psychological lens by evaluating the way that dominant institutions and situational factors impacted the behaviors (or passivity) of individual bystanders and larger communities.

The 2017-18 Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) & National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Colloquium, Collaboration and Complicity, was organized by Dr. Azadeh Aalai, Associate Professor of Sociology at Queensborough Community College, CUNY. Initiated in the 2012-13 academic year, this colloquia series was made possible thanks to support from a five year NEH Challenge Grant. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this web resource do not necessarily represent those of the NEH.


List of Programs

Program 1: Some Were Neighbors: Complicity & Collaboration, a Workshop with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Held on September 13, 2017

Dr. Susan Bachrach, Longtime Curator of Special Exhibitions in the Levine Institute for Holocaust Education at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), offers a rich and informative perspective for participants that outlines the main themes of the exhibit and sets the foundation for the theme of “Complicity & Collaboration” in relationship to the KHC’s original exhibition, Conspiracy of Goodness

Program 2: Exploring Yad Vashem’s “Righteous Among the Nations”
Held on 
September 28, 2017

Dr. Mordecai Paldiel, lecturer at Yeshiva University and Queens College and former Director of the Department for the Righteous at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, discusses the efforts by the state of Israel and Yad Vashem to commemorate and recognize those heroes of the Holocaust. He focuses on key questions, including what are the circumstances for rescue, and what differentiates these active bystanders from the majority of passive bystanders who remain complicit with their silence and inaction? 

Program 3: Remembering the Good: Holocaust Rescue and Resistance in a French Village
Held on 
November 15, 2017

From 1939 to 1945, the villagers of the Plateau Vivarais-Lignon, France, hid, protected, and ultimately rescued thousands of Jews from the Nazis at great peril to their own lives. Their nearly unparalleled actions during the Holocaust are part of this community's long history of taking in persecuted outsiders of diverse backgrounds. Anthropologist Dr. Margaret Paxson discusses her book on how this community handled the shelter of outsiders. Dr. Paxson, whose first book, Solvyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, was named a 2006 “Book of the Year” by, is a Research Fellow at Georgetown University's Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs. Using the archive collection of the USHMM oral histories and other official records, this scholar offers a comprehensive and fascinating narrative of an entire community effort towards resistance and rescue, the effects of which both resonate and remain celebrated today.

Program 4a: KHC Cinema Series: Incident at Vichy
Held on November 29, 2017

Adapted from Arthur Miller's play, this film focuses on a group of men detained in Vichy France; and held to wait unknowingly, for what turns out to be their "racial" inspection by German military officers and Vichy French police during World War II. It focuses on the subjects of human nature, guilt, fear, and complicity and examines how the Nazis were able to perpetrate the Holocaust with so little resistance. The play first premiered on Broadway in December of 1964. 

Released in 2016, 94 minutes

Program 4b: Incident at Vichy: A Discussion with the Actors
Held on December 6, 2017

An intimate portrait of life under Nazi occupation in Vichy France is dramatized by the Pulitzer-prize winning playwright Arthur Miller’s Incident at Vichy. Oftentimes overlooked when assessing Miller’s overall oeuvre, this specific play was performed at the Signature Theater in New York City in 2015 and explored the resonant themes of living life under an occupying force where the line between friends and foes is blurred and evil presents itself in many forms, oftentimes disguised and hard to penetrate on the surface. A discussion of the impetus for revitalizing this Miller work by including a panel of participants from the Signature Theatre will take place that includes some of the actors and other production members. 

Program 5: Undergraduate Research Showcase
Held on December 8, 2017

Jacqueline Murekatete, founder of the Genocide Survivors Foundation speaks about her own experiences as a victim of the Rwandan genocide. Every Fall, Queensborough Community College celebrates “Undergraduate Research Day” by showcasing the undergraduate research of students across the disciplines. As a part of the 2017 Conference, select KHC fellows presented about their participation in the Fall 2017 Holocaust, Asian Social Justice, and NEH Complicity and Collaboration Fellowship programs. 

Program 6: The Experience of Polish Jews under Nazi Occupation
Held on February 28, 2018

Part of the Drs. Bebe and Owen Bernstein Lecture Series

Dr. David Engel, Greenberg Professor of Holocaust Studies, Professor of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and Professor of History at New York University, discusses the treatment of Jews specifically in Poland during the Holocaust. This presentation chronicles his research of the Holocaust in Poland, the Polish government-in-exile, and the role of complicity versus collaboration versus rescue that occurred in Nazi-occupied territories in Eastern Europe.

Program 7: Becoming an Engaged & Active Bystander: How to Navigate a Complex & Diverse World 
Held on March 9, 2018 

Led by Dr. Azadeh Aalai, Associate Professor of Psychology at QCC, in partnership with the Center for Ethnic, Racial, & Religious Understanding (CERRU) at Queens College, this workshop will facilitate skill-building for students and other participants by asking them to reflect on difficult questions, such as: what does it take to become an engaged and civic-minded citizen, and how can we develop skills to be more likely to be active (rather than passive) bystanders? The workshop explores the theme of complicity and collaboration in a modern context, by reflecting on how we feel pressure today to remain passive in the face of injustice, and through exploration of ways we can feel comfortable taking action when others need help. 

Program 8: Wartime Defection: Resistance and Rescue During Genocide 
Held on April 12, 2018

Part of the Drs. Bebe and Owen Bernstein Lecture Series

Prominent scholar and UCLA faculty member Dr. Aliza Luft discusses her research on rescue behavior during mass atrocities and genocide. Her presentation focuses on decision-making in violent contexts and how people shift stances from support for state violence to resistance over time. Luft draws on case studies from her research in France, where people were both complicit in genocide and resistant to it at alternate moments in time. She will discuss the role of Catholic bishops – a highly visible, majority population in France, and their activism which took place in large cities where they were under heavy watch by Vichy and the Nazis. Reflecting on the KHC exhibit, Conspiracy of Goodness, she will show the distinctions from that of Le Chambon, where a minority group of protestants engaged in rescue behaviors far from the center of the regime’s activities.

Program 9: Peace Education as Inoculation Against Complicity & Injustice 
Held on May 1, 2018

Colman McCarthy is a pioneer in peace education in the Washington, DC area. McCarthy has referred to the pursuit of infusing peace education into American schools as a “crusade,” and has lamented that if peace is not taught, violence will continue to be cultivated within the society. He is an active member of the academic community, participating in a range of conferences, lectures, seminars, etc. to expose faculty and researchers to the significance of peace education and spotlight the unfortunate marginalization of this significant field in the current academic curriculum that American students are indoctrinated within today.