Eastern university to offer Ph.D. in Holocaust history

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NEW YORK — A tiny university in Massachusetts will soon become the first school in the United States offering a doctoral degree in Holocaust history.

Clark University in Worcester, Mass., plans to begin offering courses next fall for the degree.

The program is the latest in a series of steps that Clark, which has a Jewish student population of 24 percent, has taken to establish itself as a pioneer in the field.

The process began two years ago, when the university hired Deborah Dwork to fill the Rose Chair in Holocaust studies and modern Jewish history and culture.

But Dwork, who was then at Yale, wanted more than just a professorship — she told university officials that she wanted to create a center for Holocaust studies. Within a few weeks, university President Richard Traina called her and began to discuss the idea in earnest.

The recently inaugurated Center for Holocaust Studies offers an undergraduate concentration in Holocaust and genocide studies. Dwork, who is the center's director, said these courses, which include "Comparative Genocide" and "Jewish Child Life in Nazi Europe," have attracted both Jewish and non-Jewish undergraduates, including students from Korea and Bangladesh who have experienced political repression firsthand.

The center has also established a regular lecture series open to the public and a teacher-training program on the Holocaust for local schoolteachers.

The university is currently raising approximately $20 million for the center and interviewing for a second endowed professorship in Holocaust history.

"The Holocaust is a defining, pivotal event not just in Jewish history, but world history and, therefore, should be part of the educational canon," said Dwork, who wrote "Children With a Star: Jewish Youth in Nazi Europe" and co-authored "Auschwitz: 1270 to the Present."

This is not the first time that Clark, which has approximately 2,700 students, has been an innovator in academia.

Clark pioneered fields of anthropology and psychology and, in more recent years, women's studies programs. Its small size, said Dwork, allows it to make innovations quicker than larger institutions can.

A Holocaust studies professorship at Harvard University, for example, has been mired in disputes over whether or not the Holocaust should be treated as its own subject and who should hold the chair.

Some critics have argued that establishing courses and programs in Holocaust studies reduces modern Jewish history to a few years when Jews were victims, thereby neglecting the rich history that Jews created in Europe and elsewhere.

Dwork disagreed with this dichotomy, saying that it should not be a choice between one or the other. "Let us have the study of the Holocaust and other studies of Jewish life and Jewish culture."

The center comes at time when Holocaust courses have been proliferating across the country, which Dwork attributes to the fact that more than 50 years have passed since the event.

"The further we get from the event, the less we can rely on survivors," she said.

"People say, `Never forget.' But the fear is that they won't ever know what it is they're supposed to remember."