Queensborough Community College was one of six community colleges nationwide chosen in 2011 by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to receive a Challenge Grant for Two-Year Colleges to strengthen their humanities programs and resources. The College’s Harriet and Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) was at the heart of this grant and of our efforts to serve as a model of excellence in enriching students’ experiences and deepening their understanding of differences among cultures. For more information about the KHC, please visit http://khc.qcc.cuny.edu.
In 2005, the United Nations unanimously passed a resolution against genocide that not only embraced the idea of remembering the Holocaust but pledged to support the development of teaching about the Holocaust, condemn ethnic and religious violence and help prevent future acts of genocide. The idea is to take the Holocaust as an international lesson and use it to defuse global stresses and address on-going and future genocides. The mission, or common goal, is to work for a better future for humanity. This involves enlarging awareness. More conflicts are expected because of the constant pressure of economic crises, political upheaval, climate change, migration, the movements of refugees and war.
Queensborough Community College (QCC) is similarly dedicated to this important mission of using the Holocaust to educate. Many of our students, coming from all over the world, know very little about the Holocaust or its implications for the future. The Harriet & Kenneth Kupferberg Holocaust Center (KHC) provides resources and tools that can help with outreach, using remembrance and memory as a foundation. The aim of this proposal is to invest in and build more resources that can be utilized at QCC. Along with survivors who can give personal testimony as they visit classes, make presentations and interact with students, we hope to provide scholarship and an interdisciplinary perspective to help students understand the past and make connections to the world that they know. The goal is to embrace remembrance and go beyond it by involving students in the project of unlearning intolerance and committing to the idea of common shared responsibility as a tool for prevention.
This student-centered, large-scale interdisciplinary pedagogy project integrated QCC's cultural and academic resources amongst 300 students, 20 faculty members, 10 academic disciplines and 5 colleges. The colloquium both facilitated and documented QCC students' research and cultural and artistic responses to genocide (and organized hate) through work with genocide scholars, Holocaust survivors, interdisciplinary research collaborations, writing workshops, and cultural/artistic immersions. The project culminated with a student-created capstone art/research exhibit at the KHC and a music, dance and poetry recital at the Queensborough Performing Arts Center (QPAC). The accompanying library guide served as an archived content and resource hub for participating students, professors and scholars in the pedagogy project, as well as the interested public.
This colloquium included events tightly linked to a newly established field of research in genocide studies: gender-sensitive scholarship on mass violence and genocide. The events had two foci, the first being how gender structures and mediates experiences of mass violence and genocide, including the nature of pre-genocidal propaganda, the agency and victimization of men and women, and the use and effects of certain genocidal tools (e.g., sexual violence, selective mass killing, and slavery). The second was how attention to gender can help to predict, prevent, and reconcile mass violence and genocide. For example, the events collectively speak to gendered precursors to (and early warning signs of) genocide, gendered memories of trauma, and gendered efforts to rebuild and restore justice after genocide. The events also offered deliberately diverse disciplinary perspectives on the topics; bringing together fifteen scholars from a range of humanities and humanities-oriented disciplines, including History, Psychology, Philosophy, Women’s and Gender Studies, Foreign Languages and Literatures, Comparative Genocide Studies, Linguistics, Political Science, Sociology, English and Comparative Literature, and Jurisprudence.
This colloquium included events which sought to put the past in conversation with the present by exploring the history of genocide and refugees. The intention was to move QCC's students and community past abstract compassion, into an investigation of the reality of genocide and the trauma of displacement. The events explored past genocides that created refugee populations, and examined the challenges facing these refugee populations as they sought―and continue to seek―asylum in countries and communities that are often resistant to accepting them. Each program in the series offered a different disciplinary perspective that builds on the argument that the condition of the refugee extends across several spaces of identity, being global and local, social and personal simultaneously. The series also highlighted the critical need for global inclusion, both by demonstrating the deeply multidimensional impact of the refugee experience precipitated by genocide and by emphasizing its historical and contemporaneous urgency.
Related Original KHC Exhibit: The Jacket from Dachau: One Survivor’s Search for Justice, Identity, and Home
In 2015, the KHC was contacted by a vintage clothing dealer about a recent acquisition of a unique garment at an estate sale. In the back of a walk-in closet, amid a variety of old shirts and vintage dresses, hung a faded striped jacket. We know now the story of Benzion Peresecki, a young Jewish man from Lithuania who wore this jacket for ten months in the Dachau concentration camp in Germany and kept it for 33 years. This exhibit tells Peresecki’s story of his immigration to the US, his legal pursuit of reparations, as well as historic photos, maps, multiple testimonies, and short films. It is a story of Holocaust survival that demonstrates the power of a single artifact to connect narratives of justice, identity, and a search for home.
The little-known rescue in Le Chambon and its surrounding villages is one of the most awe-inspiring of World War II, not just for the courage these devout Christians displayed while protecting thousands of Jews, but for the humility with which it took place. Together, in the face of Nazi oppression, these brave townspeople of south-central France provided refuge in their homes and on their farms to those who fled there―regardless of religious or ethnic background. Despite the extreme danger of this effort, the resolute people of Le Chambon and the Plateau Vivrais-Lignon felt that it was the right thing to do, did it without hesitation, and said they would do it again. Following their own long history of persecution, the faithful Protestants of this mountainous region chose to protect the Jews, their fellow “people of God,” with inspiration and leadership from Pastors André Trocmé and Édouard Theis, who preached tolerance, pacifism, and spiritual resistance.
This volume collates insights from five years of intensive Holocaust, genocide, and mass atrocity education at Queensborough Community College (QCC) of the City University of New York (CUNY) to offer four approaches – Arts-Based, Textual, Outcomes-Based, and Social Justice – to designing innovative, integrative, and differentiated pedagogies for today’s imperatives and college students. It covers the theoretical foundations of each approach, and it includes faculty reflections on the programs, instructional strategies, and student reactions that brought the approaches to life across the disciplines.
Click here to visit Palgrave Macmillan’s webpage for the volume.
Click here for the library guide.