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Feature Stories

A Reason to Remember
The Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies
James, Young, Director, Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies

Outreach to the wider community is key to the institute’s mission.

The Pioneer Valley has long been home to diverse resources for the study of the Holocaust and other genocides, but until now not in a centralized location. With this year’s opening of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies (IHGMS), UMass Amherst is able to offer scholars from around the world a space for research, collaboration, and education on the Holocaust as well as on the memory and representation of this and other acts of genocide.

The institute sits on the north edge of campus, in a house purchased by a local donor. The building serves as an office, study center, library, and guest house for visiting scholars, and includes space for exhibitions, lectures, and teaching.

The institute is the brainchild of director James E. Young, English and Judaic and Near Eastern Studies, and assistant director Lara Curtis. An internationally renowned scholar of Holocaust and memory studies, Young focuses on the way that literature, film, history, memorials, and museums shape our memory of the Holocaust and other genocides. Curtis is a doctoral student in comparative literature specializing in literature and film related to the Holocaust and Jewish history.

The institute began to take shape when the Jewish Federation of Western Massachusetts approached Curtis to find a home for their exhibition on the Holocaust: A Reason to Remember. The exhibition traces the experiences of Jewish families from the village of Roth, Germany, most of whom perished in the Holocaust. With this donation and substantial financial support from local donors and UMass alumni, the institute was created.

 “The primary rubrics of the institute are history, memory, and education,” Young says. It is a center for faculty doing research in various areas, including the sixteen affiliated faculty on the academic advisory board. Students attend classes at the institute and use the library for research and study. The institute provides experience for interns from public history and other programs in mounting an exhibition, planning events, and leading tours and educational programs. IHGMS will also work closely with the UMass Amherst School of Education to create a state Holocaust curriculum for middle and high school students.

Outreach to the wider community is key to the institute’s mission. Trained docents, including local Holocaust survivors, lead programs with school and synagogue groups, and a traveling version of A Reason to Remember serves as an ambassador for the institute. Public events, lectures, and film screenings are regular features, and in September the institute co-hosted the public history program’s 25th anniversary conference. This fall, IHGMS and the Five Colleges co-sponsored “War, Dictatorship, and Memory: An International Symposium on Spain,” addressing the legacy of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco’s military regime. They also plan to host traveling exhibitions, including a Holocaust exhibit from the Bulgarian Embassy and one from the Haiti Holocaust Project, created by Holocaust refugees who found shelter in Haiti.

Young and Curtis are also expanding the institute’s exhibitions to include a new section illustrating recent genocides in countries such as Darfur, Rwanda, and Bosnia. These will explore the events through specific thematic lenses—the experience of women, the role of rescuers who resisted violence, and the work of the Committee on Conscience, a genocide watchdog group based at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. “We want to take what we have learned from Holocaust and memory studies and apply them to the next genocides,” Young explains. “We will examine how these genocides are studied and remembered, and how that memory will make possible new policy decisions by our own and other governments.”

Megan Zinn