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Greenberg Center Program to Explore Genocide as “The Scourge of the Twentieth Century”

Posted 09/03/2013
Posted by David Isgur

The University of Hartford’s Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies will present Genocide: Israel Charny and the Scourge of the Twentieth Century as the first of what the Greenberg Center hopes will be a series of exhibitions that will challenge the public to examine what genocide is, why it happens, and perhaps help us to prevent genocide before it starts. The new exhibition opening at the University’s Museum of Jewish Civilization on Monday, Sept. 23, at 7.m., charts the life and career of Israel W. Charny, a path-breaking scholar, while highlighting photography of three of the most prominent genocides of the twentieth century that he has researched: the Armenian Genocide of 1915, the Holocaust or Shoah of European Jewry (1933-45), and the Rwandan Genocide of 1994.

The exhibit opening on Sept. 23 will begin at 7 p.m. in Wilde Auditorium, with a talk by Avinoam Patt, the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History. Patt also will show excerpts from an interview with Charny conducted by Greenberg Center Director Richard Freund, and he will provide a preview of the exhibition. (The entire interview with Charny will be playing during the exhibition.)

After the program in Wilde Auditorium, guests will go to the Museum of Jewish Civilization in Mortensen Library to view the exhibit.

The exhibition emerged as a part of discussions between Patt and Freund, (director of the Greenberg Center), with Israel W. Charny, arguably one of the most distinguished scholars of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and who since 1979 has been the executive director of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, which he founded with Elie Wiesel and the late Shamai Davidson, M.D.

The exhibition will feature photographs and artifacts from Rwanda provided by Joe Olzacki, a well-known local educator and alumnus of the University of Hartford. Also included in the exhibition will be the work of University of Hartford professor Mari Firkatian, herself the descendant of survivors of the Armenian Genocide. Firkatian’s photos highlight the reconstruction of the Sourp Giragos, Holy George Church in Diyarbakir, Turkey, now being restored thanks to the efforts of the town’s mayor and Armenians who fled the city in 1915.

Photographs taken by members of the Greenberg Center’s Sobibor Documentation Project in Poland will also feature the Sobibor Extermination Camp, Majdanek Concentration and Extermination Camp, and the beautiful (still intact) synagogue of Wlodawa. A short pamphlet on Charny and explanations of the photographs will also be provided.

The event at the Museum, located inside the Mortensen Library in the University’s Harry Jack Gray Center, is free and open to the public. For more information, please contact the Greenberg Center at 860.768.4964. This world premiere exhibition on the pioneering work of genocide scholar and psychotherapist Israel W. Charny will open at the University of Hartford on Sept. 23, and is scheduled to remain open until April 1, 2014.

The opening will also feature a short segment from an interview of Charny that was conducted in Israel with Freund in December, 2012. In one chilling exchange (that will be shown on September 23), Charny reveals that his search for the meaning of how to prevent genocide and which began his transformation from therapist to activist started with a dream (or rather a nightmare) in 1965. He woke suddenly with the question: “How did they do what they did to our people? How did they kill them the way they did?” Freund hopes that the presence of the exhibition on campus will allow students in psychology, history, philosophy, politics and government, among many other disciplines to ask questions about how genocide happens and realize that every one of us needs to have a “Charny moment.”

“It is amazing the transformation,” Freund said. Charny “embarked upon a lifetime of trying to use his professional training as a psychiatrist to help unravel one of the great mysteries of human behavior. How we allow people to commit genocide and how to stop it.”

Israel W. Charny, born in Brooklyn in 1931 (but a resident of Israel since the 1973) completed his training in clinical psychology in the United States at the University of Rochester in 1957. Fully trained as an expert on human behavior, Charny was troubled by the 1961 trial of Adolf Eichmann: how was it possible that human beings were capable of perpetrating such unspeakable evil on one another? From that moment, he dedicated himself to finding the answer to this question. In the process, he has become one of the world’s leading experts on genocide, one of the founders of the field of genocide studies, the founder of the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, all the while remaining a practicing psychotherapist and acknowledged expert on marriage and family therapy in Israel.

The University of Hartford has been a pioneer in Holocaust and Genocide education in the State of Connecticut, offering a training program for middle and high school teachers and awarding prizes for new and innovative curricula that goes back two decades and college coursework that goes back 30 years. In the last six years, with the hiring of professor Patt as the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Jewish History, the University’s Greenberg Center has made Holocaust and Genocide education a central part of the Judaic Studies program. Patt, who earlier served as Miles Lerman Research Scholar at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. is one of a new generation of scholars who are trained in a multi-disciplinary approach to the study of the Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The Greenberg Center hosted a visit by the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, to the University in March 2013.

The exhibition, “Genocide: Israel Charny and The Scourge Of The Twentieth Century,” is part of a major new initiative by the Maurice Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies in the field of Genocide and Holocaust Education to preserve the testimonies of second and third generation stories of genocide and the Holocaust for teachers worldwide called In Our Own Words. Students in Professor Patt’s Fall 2013 Honors Seminar, “Responses to the Holocaust,” will conduct the first series of pilot interviews with children of Holocaust survivors and victims of other genocides.

This new initiative involves an international consortium of universities and the Institute on the Holocaust and Genocide in Jerusalem, founded by Dr. Israel W. Charny, which will be joining the Greenberg Center’s Genocide Prevention Now Teaching Website and Educational Workshops. The new initiative will include a series of courses, workshops, public programs, exhibitions and web-based projects organized by the Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies that will allow for the wide dissemination and distribution of materials for teaching about the Holocaust and Genocide to educators in the community and around the nation.