Sonoma State Holocaust series marks 25th year

How does one commemorate a quarter century of analyzing the worst episodes in human history? A cake seems wildly inappropriate, and there’s definitely not a Hallmark card for that.

“It’s a solemn occasion,” said professor Myrna Goodman, director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, which is housed in Sonoma State University’s sociology department. “It has inspired us to move on to the next 25 years.”

The 16-week lecture series, which is already under way, is a general education course for SSU students but also free and open to the public. Lectures are every Tuesday at 4 p.m. in Warren Auditorium on the SSU campus.

The Holocaust center (and the subsequent lecture series) was founded by several Sonoma County activists, including John Steiner, an emeritus professor of sociology at Sonoma State and a survivor of Auschwitz and Dachau. Over the years, the center expanded its area of study to include other genocides along with the Shoah.

“Part of what we hoped would happen is that we would learn from the Holocaust and it would serve as an antidote to genocide. But that hasn’t happened,” Goodman said.

“Although the Holocaust is the prototypical genocide, it’s not as unique a situation as one would hope.”

Indeed, there are enough survivors from enough genocides that the lecture series puts many of them on the same discussion panel every year. This is one of the yearly highlights of the program, organizers say.

“The moving moments are those particular lectures when we have survivors of genocides talk to each other. They talk across the generations. Holocaust survivors talk to survivors from Rwanda, from the Roma, from Cambodia,” said Barbara Lesch McCaffery, a Sonoma State sociology professor and president of the Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust, which supports the SSU center.

It’s experiences like these — and the belief that they are making an impact — that enable the Holocaust scholars to smile through the pain.

“The difference between [the early days] and now is that more and more students are interested in the course,” said Goodman. “And more and more tell us that we help them understand things they didn’t know but always wanted to know about.”

For more information about the lecture series call (707) 664-4296 or visit

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.