History of the Institute

The Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies at UMass Amherst opened in March 2011. It was established initially to house the generous gift of a permanent teaching exhibition on the Holocaust, "A Reason to Remember: Roth, Germany 1933-42," donated to the University by the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, formerly installed at Hatikvah Holocaust Education Center in Springfield. The exhibition is open to university students and the general public, as well as to visiting middle and high school student groups by appointment. A travelling version of this exhibition is available to other borrowing institutions upon request. Since its opening the Institute and its teaching exhibition have been visited by thousands of middle and high school students, as well as university students, who have toured the exhibition in the company of survivors and docents.

With generous founding gifts from Pamela and Robert Jacobs of Washington, D.C., Brenda and Al Curtis of Springfield, and an anonymous local donor, the Institute continues to host monthly public lectures, conferences, screenings, university classes, and other visiting school groups.

The Institute houses a 5,000 volume library on Holocaust, genocide, Jewish history, and memory. This library has been established with generous founding gifts from Schoen Booksellers, Estate of Gaston Schmir, Herbert and Elsa Roth, and James Young.

The Institute was founded by James E. Young, Distinguished University Professor emeritus of English and Judaic Studies at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where he has taught since 1988. An expert on Holocaust memory and the author of numerous books, Young was appointed by the Berlin Senate to the five-member Findungskommission for Germany's national "Memorial to Europe's Murdered Jews," which selected Peter Eisenman’s design, dedicated in May 2005. He has also consulted with Argentina’s government on its memorial to the desaparacidos. In 2003, he was appointed by the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation to the jury for the World Trade Center Site Memorial competition, won by Michael Arad and Peter Walker, dedicated on September 11, 2011. Among his books are Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988), The Texture of Memory (Yale University Press, 1993), which won the National Jewish Book Award in 1994, and At Memory's Edge: After-images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (Yale University Press, 2000). He is the recipient of numerous awards and fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, ACLS Fellowship, and NEH.

Lara R. Curtis is also a founder of the University of Massachusetts Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies.
Dr. Curtis was the Institute’s first administrative director and held this position from its inception until 2017. For three years before the Institute officially opened its doors, she was responsible for overseeing a curriculum project on Holocaust education for university and high school students throughout the Pioneer Valley and southern New England. Her work on this project led to a joint partnership between the UMass College of Education and the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts, which was one of the main incentives for the establishment of the Institute. Dr. Curtis was an officer of the Foundation for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, which was a private organization that was created for the purpose of establishing the Institute during the first years of its existence. Over the years she cultivated many relationships with scholars, friends, and donors of the Institute both locally and worldwide, to ensure that it would serve as a venue for scholars and students today and in the future. Dr. Curtis holds a Ph.D. from the University of Massachusetts Program of Comparative Literature, and an MA from the Program of French and Francophone Studies. She is the author of Writing Resistance and the Question of Gender: Charlotte Delbo, Noor Inayat Khan, and Germaine Tillion (Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019). This book is the first comparative study of the lives and works of Charlotte Delbo, Noor Inayat Khan, and Germaine Tillion, whose writings represent the Holocaust and French resistance literature.