Cohen Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies James Waller has been invited to give the keynote address at the 20th Commemoration of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide against Tutsi at the University of Notre Dame’s Notre Dame Conference Center on April 26. The conference theme is “Remember – Unite – Renew,” and the event focuses on Rwandans and friends of Rwanda who wish to remember the people who perished during the 1994 Genocide and learn from the past and “strive to build a bright future focused on education, self-reliance, good governance, and great vision.”
“It’s always an honor to be invited to participate in commemoration events such as these, particularly on the 20th commemoration of the Rwandan genocide,” Dr. Waller said. “To join the Rwandan community as it remembers, and continues to heal, from the tragedy of 1994 is a very powerful reminder of the important work that we all have ahead of us in genocide and mass atrocity prevention.”
You can read some of Dr. Waller’s moving words from the conference, as reported in The Observer.
Judge Patricia Whalen has spent most of her professional life seeking justice for victims of those who abuse their power. Currently, she serves as a special advisor to the War Crimes Chamber at the Court of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and from 2007 through 2012, she was an international judge of the country’s War Crimes Chamber—the busiest war crimes court in the world. This semester, she’s teaching a class in International Law and Genocide here at Keene State, and 24 fortunate students are learning from her vast experience and knowledge.
Her advocacy started back in the 1970s, when Judge Whalen, her husband, and baby moved to Vermont, where she befriended a neighbor with an abusive husband. When the neighbor became pregnant, her husband beat her so badly she lost the child. While Judge Whalen was with the neighbor at the hospital, the husband shot himself in the foot, and his wife got up from her bed to take care of him. “That one night taught me everything I needed to know about domestic violence,” Judge Whalen recalled.
Shortly after that incident, she entered Vermont Law School to gain the legal skills to fight domestic violence. When she graduated, she took a job at Vermont Legal Aid, though friends advised her that was a dead end for her fledgling career. Undaunted, she used her new position to help create a statewide domestic violence network that caught the attention of Governor Madeline Kunin, who in 1990 appointed her magistrate to Vermont’s new Family Court system, settling child-support disputes.
Soon after, Judge Whalen attended an organizational meeting of the International Association of Women Judges (IAWJ). As an active member of that group, she spoke on family law at international conferences, and even organized the Afghan Women Judges Judicial Education Project to bring women jurists from Afghanistan to visit Vermont and Washington, D.C., so they can see firsthand the workings of an orderly, independent judicial system.
In 2012, Associate Professor of Sociology Brian Green took a group of Honors students to Bosnia and Herzegovina and arranged for them to visit the War Crimes Chamber. Usually only graduate students from law school or programs studying conflict dispute or court systems visit this court, but Judge Whalen was happy to meet this group of undergraduates from near her Vermont home. “They had visited a conflict-reconciliation program in northern Bosnia,” she recalled. “Because they had that experience, and had gotten to know people in the village, they understood how the war had affected the villagers, and they could see the problems that arise when people who were fighting need to live together again. … They were very sharp kids and I enjoyed them. I invited them back to my house for an evening. I was very impressed.” And at her home that evening Judge Whalen learned about Keene’s Holocaust and Genocide Studies program.
When she got back to the US, Dr. Green contacted her to ask if she’d be interested in teaching in the Holocaust and Genocide and Criminal Justice programs. She met the HGS faculty and found that the program could use someone who could clarify the legal issues around the issues they study.
As a result, Judge Whalen is teaching her course on International Law and Genocide this semester, bringing a new perspective to HGS. “I come from a completely different background than the other faculty members in HGS,” she explained. “The program primarily focuses on prevention and understanding why perpetrators do what they do. Judges, on the other hand, are concerned about fair trials, and prosecutors are concerned with stopping perpetrators. The law focuses on evidence, evidence, evidence and doesn’t really care about why. The fact that Hitler may have been a failed artist is irrelevant in the eyes of the law.”
“She brings a very different lens to the study of genocide,” said Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies Paul Vincent. “We agonize over what leads people to commit atrocity, but she doesn’t concern herself with why a perpetrator did what he or she did—the judicial system just cares about whether they can be prosecuted under the law.”
“We’re very fortunate to have her here; you’d expect someone with her background to be teaching a course in international law at Harvard or Yale,” noted Cohen Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies James Waller.
Her students are finding her enthusiasm and her fresh approach very engaging. “Each week, Judge Whalen has students post news articles online, and then we discuss how they relate to the field of international law,” said senior and HGS major Chloe Nixon. “This is helping us understand how the law affects far more than we see, and it gives us an opportunity to use the terms and statutes she is teaching us. This is a skill that is helping me see the world in a new way. … The best part of her class is how she is able to enhance concepts or legal definitions with real-life examples from her work as a judge.”
“Judge Whalen’s course has been an amazing experience,” explained senior and HGS major Johanna DeBari. “She has so much experience she is willing to share with us. … She is clever, and funny, which makes the classroom experience all the more enjoyable. I am doing a research project on the implications of a case coming out of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for the prosecution of rape as a tool of genocide, and she allowed me the opportunity to present my research to my class as a part of our curriculum. She makes this course a beneficial experience for all of us.”
The legal issues in genocide and war crimes prosecution are involved and convoluted, as are the reasons why some people are brought to justice and some are not. “My students need to understand how complex the issues are,” explained Judge Whalen. “A lot of people react by simply asking, ‘Why doesn’t the law do something about this?’ But now the students are learning that there are no simple solutions—it’s very complicated.”
“Her class is certainly broadening my perspective of the legal world; I’ve never been exposed to international law in so much depth,” said DeBari. “The assignments require us to form thoughtful opinions, so we are increasing our skills as critical learners.”
“This has been my first exposure to law, and I am finding it really interesting and exciting,” Nixon said. “Judge Whalen has shown us that law is always changing and that international law in particular is a fast-growing and fast-paced field. Because of her passion and interest, I am developing an interest in a career in law.”
And stimulating her students’ interest in the law should have an impact on curbing genocide and mass atrocity in the future. “International law is something that tomorrow’s legal professionals will have to develop,” Judge Whalen explained. “It’s just in the toddler stage now, if you think of the Nuremberg trials as giving birth to something. These current students are the ones who are going to see it through to a more developed stage. … The 21st century already is starting out as a very aggressive and unsettled time. And the world is smaller; its citizens—at least theoretically—are looking at global solutions to everything, from telephones to law. So [our current students] will be on the cutting edge of all of this.”
And Judge Whalen is certainly preparing her students for that cutting edge. “I want them to understand that you really can fight mass atrocity, and that there are a lot of ways of doing that.”
Mathilde Mukantabana—Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Rwanda to the United States and non-resident Ambassador to Mexico, Brazil, and Argentina—will deliver the Cohen Center’s annual Genocide Awareness Lecture in the Mabel Brown Room on Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. This year marks the 20th anniversary of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and Ambassador Mukantabana’s talk is titled “Remember, Unite, Renew: Retracing Milestones in Country Building after the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.” The Ambassador will also be on campus the following day, Tuesday, March 4, to introduce the Cohen Center’s 2014 Professional Development-Public Workshop, “Interrupting Genocide: Protecting Civilians from Mass Atrocity,” with Dr. James Waller.
Ambassador Mukantabana was born and raised in Rwanda before she moved to the United States to pursue her studies. In 1994, she was hired to teach history at Cosumnes River College, in Sacramento, Calif., just as she learned that her entire family had been butchered in the genocide that has come to define her native Rwanda to the rest of the world.
“If we Tutsis survived, it was by a miracle,” Mukantabana recalled. “A million people died in three months. It started in April and ended in July 1994. My father, my mother, and my four younger brothers and sisters were killed along with six aunts, four uncles, and all my nieces and nephews. From my father’s side alone 70 are gone.”
While teaching at Cosumnes River, Ambassador Mukantabana threw herself into Rwanda’s resurrection and helped create the Friends of Rwanda Association (FORA), a non-profit American relief association to expand the circle of friends of Rwanda and to support survivors of the genocide through a variety of initiatives and relief efforts. In addition, under the aegis of United Nations for Development Programs (UNDP), the ambassador started the academic program of Social Work at the National University of Rwanda in 1999, and taught a variety of subjects in its summer program until recently.
Ambassador Mukantabana has been a passionate community organizer for several decades and was a co-founder of many associations and organizations whose main purpose was to promote a positive engagement and collaboration of the Rwandan communities in the United States with other groups and organizations for the benefit of their respective countries. She is an active board member of the Alliance for the Study of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Sonoma State University in California and belongs to many local and international organizations including the International Association of Genocide Scholars (IAGS) and the Organization of African Leaders in Diaspora (OALD), which she co-founded and for which she is currently acting as chair of the board.
Towards the end of WWII Hitler ordered his killing machine into overdrive to exterminate the Jews. Joanna Saidel ’85 has written a fascinating article, “Deal with the Devil,” for The Times of Israel that delves deeply into clandestine efforts to thwart Hitler’s orders—a little known story that saved perhaps tens of thousands of European Jews.
Saidel received a master’s degree from Keene State before going on to get a Ph.D. in History from UNH Durham (her dissertation topic was “Revisionist Zionism in America: The Campaign to Win American Public Support, 1939-1948”). “My work at Keene definitely helped pave the way for the current article,” Saidel explained. “At that time I studied with Charles Hildebrandt. If I remember correctly, he was in the process of establishing a Holocaust Studies program then (probably around 1984?). He was my mentor for my master’s thesis, Jewish Life in Latin America. I enjoyed working with him very much; I could sense his genuine dedication—his emotion and spirit—as he undertook his mission to develop a Holocaust center at Keene.”
Saidel currently live in New Hampshire with her family, writing for The Times of Israel and occasionally for the Jerusalem Post.
Because Keene State values experiential learning and strives to create hands-on learners, these three students were excellent ambassadors for the College and the HGS program. “The common message was the perceptible value of undergraduate students studying away, whether overseas or in an environment such as Washington, DC.,” explained Professor and Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies Paul Vincent.
Just over two years ago, Keene State forged an exchange relationship with Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland. Although the relationship is not specifically for Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors, it certainly offers them a rewarding opportunity. “It fit beautifully for us,” explained Paul Vincent, professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies, “especially for the Holocaust part of our major. Krakow is perfectly located within walking distance of the infamous Płaszów concentration camp. The factory mentioned in Schindler’s List is located nearby, as is the ghetto. It’s about a 45-minute drive from Auschwitz. If you’re studying the Holocaust, there is a remarkably powerful mental impact to stand in the places where these things happened. You see the world differently when you’re actually studying this in Poland.”
So far, three Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors have taken advantage of the opportunity at Jagiellonian. Two of them, Chloe Edmonds and Johanna DeBari, now completing their spring semester at the university, wrote a detailed letter to Dr. Vincent telling him of their adventures. It’s an inspiring testament of bright, engaged students exploring new horizons and taking on challenges beyond the call of duty. But it’s better to let them tell their story in their own words: Continue reading A Letter from Krakow→
Thanks to generous support from the Faculty Development Grant fund, Professor Nona Fienberg (Holocaust & Genocide Studies) will be in Poland from Nov. 8–26 as a visiting scholar, primarily at Jagiellonian University, in Krakow.
“I’m giving an invited lecture that I call ‘Present! Scenes of Instruction in Ghetto Romance,'” Dr. Fienberg said. “Given the central place of books and study in Jewish identity, I examine scenes of instruction in the ghetto—both clandestine and officially recognized—in streets, garret classrooms, kitchens, and underground hiding spaces. Jews studied in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew and created art and literature even as the catastrophe unfolded in the ghettos.” Continue reading Nona Fienberg a Visiting Scholar in Krakow→
Most people see the wisdom in following their passion, and probably most of us pursue what we love to some degree, but few have taken that path with the focus and intention of Michelle Sigiel ’10. Michelle loves history and political science—especially as they relate to the Holocaust and World War II-era Europe. When she was at KSC, she had the distinction of being the first Holocaust & Genocide Studies (HGS) major in the first such undergraduate program in the country. She also majored in European history and political science. She graduated with honors and co-founded, with department chair Paul Vincent, the HGS honor society, ZXP (Zeta Chi Rho). Continue reading Michelle Sigiel ’10 Visits Poland as Auschwitz Jewish Center Fellow→
When Paul Vincent (professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies) and Hank Knight (director of the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies) visited Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, last year,their aim was to establish a formal relationship between KSC and Jagiellonian’s Centre for European Studies. “It fit beautifully for us,” Dr. Vincent explained, “especially for the Holocaust part of our major. Krakow is perfectly located within walking distance of the infamous Płaszów concentration camp. The factory mentioned in Schindler’s List is located nearby, as is the ghetto. It’s about a 45-min drive from Auschwitz. If you’re studying the Holocaust, there is a remarkably powerful mental impact to stand in the places where these things happened. You see the world differently when you’re actually studying this in Poland.”
Two representatives from KSC have been awarded fellowships to the first European Summer Institute on the Holocaust and Jewish Civilization at the Royal Holloway campus, Egham, Surrey in England, this summer: Dr. Nona Fienberg, who will be moving from her current position as dean of Arts & Humanities in June to teach in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies Department, and Economics Professor Patrick Dolenc. This intensive, two-week residential program is designed to broaden the background of postgraduates in Holocaust studies, early career academics, and educators in relevant fields. The curriculum consists of courses, lectures, and seminars taught by leading scholars on such themes as the history of Jews and Judaism in Europe, Holocaust history, the Holocaust in literature and film, and the Holocaust and modern thought.
Professor and Cohen Chair for Holocaust and Genocide Studies James Waller has been invited to attend a dinner at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, on April 18, honoring Aung San Suu Kyi. The Memorial Museum will grant Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her pro-democracy work in her native Burma, with the Elie Wiesel Award, the Museum’s highest honor.
“I am particularly thrilled to have the opportunity to be present for Aung San Suu Kyi’s award,” Dr. Waller explained. “I think that what is happening in Myanmar/Burma is forcing us to rethink genocide prevention in some fundamental (and very encouraging) ways. Last year at this time, I was telling audiences that Burma was the most likely country in the world to engage in genocide. It really stood on the precipice of mass atrocity, and my standard line was ‘the only surprise is that genocide hasn’t happened yet in Burma,’ because every other risk factor was well in place. Now, just months later, free, democratic elections are on the horizon. It’s really amazing—this most encouraging lesson in genocide prevention is that it’s never too late. As long as a country hasn’t yet reached that falling off point, there’s still hope.”
Dr. Waller is also invited to participate as a featured speaker in the Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance luncheon on April 19. Broadcast journalist Marvin Kalb, and Shankhar Vedantum, author of The Hidden Brain, will moderate the luncheon program, which will focus on understanding how the Holocaust was made possible by everyday people. Dr. Waller’s research for his book, Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide and Mass Killing (Oxford), will be particularly relevant to the discussion.
Dr. James Waller, Cohen Endowed Chair of Holocaust and Genocide Studies and author of Becoming Evil: How Ordinary People Commit Genocide, was commended by the California State Senate at the Third International Conference on Genocide, Negationism, Revisionism, Survivors’ Testimonies, Eyewitness Accounts, Justice, and Memory on November 2–4, 2011. Continue reading Calif. Senate Commends Dr. Waller→
The Cohen Center is recognized as an “Echoes and Reflections Approved Training Center” and will deliver workshops to the New England region. Heading this pilot program will be Glenda McFadden, Cohen Center and Jewish Foundation for the Righteous Lerner Fellow, who received training in NYC. Ms. McFadden is a recipient of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous‘ Goldman Award for Excellence in Holocaust Education and teaches at Nashua (NH) Catholic Junior High School.
Father Patrick Desbois‘ presentation at KSC’s 14th Annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture was featured in the latest edition of the newsletter from Yahad – In Unum, a research organization investigating the mass executions of 1.5 million Jews and Roma/Gypsy people in Eastern Europe between 1941 and 1944. While he was here, Fr. Desbois also met with Holocaust and Genocide Studies majors to discuss his book, “Holocaust by Bullets” and was interviewed on NH Public Radio’s All Things Considered.