Dennis Judd with his late mother, Lillian, who survived Auschwitz. (Photo/Courtesy)
Dennis Judd with his late mother, Lillian, who survived Auschwitz. (Photo/Courtesy)

Sonoma State’s 41st annual series focuses on preventing future genocides

For four decades, Sonoma State University has brought together genocide survivors, rescuers and scholars for its annual public lecture series about some of the world’s most heinous crimes.

On Jan. 23, the series will launch in its 41st year with the theme “Genocides: Past, Present, and Future?” The lectures, which will run through May, will delve into the historical context of genocides, analyzing what conditions make them happen and how studying previous genocides may prevent them from happening in the future.

In the 1980s, Sonoma State launched an academic center for the study of the Holocaust and has since expanded its scope to include other genocides.

“We say ‘never again,’ but it’s over and over again,” said Christyne Davidian, president of Sonoma State’s Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide.

When the program started, she said, the Cambodian genocide had already occurred. But then, “we had the Bosnian, we had the Rwandan, we had Sudan, and it just goes on and on.”

The Alliance for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide is made up of descendants of the victims and survivors of different genocides. Davidian, for example, is the grandchild of survivors of the 1915 Armenian genocide.

The lecture series was started in 1982 to provide “education about the origins, nature and consequences of the Holocaust” and has evolved to include discussion and lectures on other genocides. This year, the series will begin with “The Holocaust in Historical Perspective,” a lecture by Sonoma State history department chair and academic coordinator Stephen Bittner.

UC Irvine political science professor Jeffrey Kopstein will speak Jan. 30 on the topic “Politics, Violence, Memory: The New Social Science of the Holocaust.” On Feb. 6, Dennis Judd will give a talk about his later mother, Lillian, who survived Auschwitz. Her memoir, “From Nightmare to Freedom: Healing After the Holocaust,” was self-published in 2011.

On Feb. 13, three generations of the Victor family will present their family’s experiences during the war and the lives they built in the aftermath of the Holocaust in the lecture “Generation to Generation: Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants.”

We say ‘never again,’ but it’s over and over again.

Other sessions include “Soviet Judgment at Nuremberg: A New Look at History and Its Lessons” on Feb. 20, “Legacies of Trauma and Resilience” on Feb. 27, “Authoritarianism and Genocide in An Age of Climate Change” on March 5, “Becoming Evil” on April 2 and “That Troublesome Word, Genocide: How Should We Understand It?” on April 9.

For the first time, the series will feature a lecture on the Nanjing Massacre, formerly called the Rape of Nanking, where the Japanese Imperial Army mass-murdered Chinese civilians in 1937 and 1938 during the second Sino-Japanese War. There will also be lectures that cover the Armenian, Bosnian and Rwandan genocides, as well as human trafficking.

The series will conclude on May 7 with a joint presentation on the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda by Rwandan Ambassador to the U.S. Mathilde Mukantabana, survivor Consolee Nishimwe and the descendant of survivors Ntwali A. Cyusa.

Israel is currently on trial before the International Court of Justice on a charge from South Africa of committing genocide in Gaza during the ongoing Israel-Hamas war. Israel vehemently denies the allegation.

The Sonoma State series does not include any lectures focusing on that accusation because the speakers were selected in May, according to Davidian.

Davidian said she believes that at least one genocide expert, Jeffrey Kopstein, will touch on the subject during the Q&A part of his lecture. Kopstein’s research focuses on interethnic violence, voting patterns of minority groups, antisemitism and anti-liberal tendencies in civil society.

“I’m sure the questions are going to come up and some of these speakers are going to have to address it,” said Davidian. “It does need to be addressed.”

This year’s series is dedicated to Myrna Lea Osoff Goodman, a professor emeritus at Sonoma State University, who died last year. Goodman served as director of the Center for the Study of the Holocaust and Genocide, chair of the Holocaust Study Center Faculty Advisory Committee and coordinator of the Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series for 15 years.

Lectures will take place on Tuesdays from 4 to 5:15 p.m., with both in-person and livestreaming options. For more information, visit holocaust.sonoma.edu/lectures.

Lea Loeb
(Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Lea Loeb

Lea Loeb is engagement reporter at J. She previously served as editorial assistant.