"I think it's naïve to say that if we learn lessons from the past, we won't repeat them," says retired Western Washington University professor Ray Wolpow, founder of the Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education at Western. "But I think it's important to learn from the past to make our present more humane."
That's one of the thoughts Wolpow had in mind when he founded the center in Woodring College of Education back in 1998, and it's the thought that led him and his students to expand the center over the years to include education on other forms of genocide and ethnocide.
Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day in English, began Wednesday evening, April 15, and continues through the evening of April 16. Roughly six million Jews and millions of others were killed during the Holocaust from 1941 to 1945.
It's important that the Holocaust -- and events like it -- not be forgotten, he says. Today, the center works with high school and middle school teachers to provide them with information and instructional expertise on the Holocaust as well as on other acts of genocide and ethnocide from throughout history.
"We must reflect on why it is important to know about the Holocaust and genocide," Wolpow says. "The Armenian genocide that preceded it and the plethora of genocides that occur throughout the world."
Julianna Jackson is a Jewish Western student who wants to see the Holocaust remembered more on campus.
"It's a really, really, sad day for us, and it needs to be remembered in a more important way," she says. "If I could have one thing, it's just for more people to know about the impact of the Shoah and to be more aware of what it means when we say 'never again'."
Noemi Ban, a Holocaust survivor and Bellingham resident who often speaks at Western about her experiences, once said that it is her duty to tell her story for that reason, the reason for Yom HaShoah: remembrance.
"Because I am one of the ones who survived, it gives me an extra strength because I know how important it is for people to know, listen and learn from a survivor," she said in a 2013 Q&A posted on the NWCHGEE website. "I know that there are some survivors who can not talk about it. We understand that. Those of us who are talking about it, we have the feeling that it is a duty and should be done. That gives us the strength to share it."
A survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, Ban lost her mother, grandmother, and younger sister and brother to the horrors of the death camps, and she worked at the slave labor camp at Buchenwald. After the Holocaust, she was witness to the 1956 Soviet repression of the anti-communist uprising in Hungary.
She will speak of her experiences at 6 p.m. April 28 in Arntzen Hall Room 100 and will be available for a question-and-answer session and book signing after the lecture. Admission is free, but Ban's lectures are popular, and space is limited. To make a reservation, visit the Northwest Center for Holocaust, Genocide and Ethnocide Education’s website at www.wce.wwu.edu/NWCHGE/.
And on April 23, two founding members of Pacific Lutheran University's Holocaust and Genocide Studies Program will speak at Western. Lisa Marcus, an associate professor of English at PLU, will discuss a PLU project to explore the implications of cultural critic Theodor Adorno's famous claim that "to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." She'll also describe the Poetry After Auschwitz Project recently published in Reform Jewish Quarterly. Kirsten Christensen, an associate professor of German at PLU, will discuss the development of PLU's new academic minor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, inaugurated this past fall, including the program's commitment to team teaching, a value that underscores the inherent interdisciplinarity of the academic study of the Holocaust and other genocides. That event will take place at 4 p.m. April 23 in Viking Union Room 565A. It is free and open to the public, and no reservations are required.
University Communications and Marketing intern Elizabeth Yanak also contributed to this story.