The Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education fights for injustice with Knowledge
Stephen Gaies wasn’t planning to lead the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education (CHGE) at UNI, but the idea of creating a permanent center was far from the minds of any of the original ad hoc committee members whose initial goal was to organize a lecture series on the Holocaust. That original idea of a lecture series quickly evolved into a three-semester program of events, and the work of the committee led to the establishment of the CHGE in September 2010.
“It was almost four years of work and a lot of programming on campus that basically led to and provided evidence for the need for the center,” said Gaies, director. “We could point to the terrific turnout we got for our different events, the level of interest in what we were doing, the collaboration of departments, colleges and other offices across campus, and the number of students who were served directly or indirectly.”
The CHGE aims to increase knowledge about the Holocaust and other genocides and to strengthen the commitment to confront threats to human rights, including intolerance, antisemitism and racism. It also prepares K-12 teachers to include these issues in their lesson plans. To do this, the CHGE organizes traveling exhibits and educational programming, including lecture series, art exhibits, musical performances, film screenings and teacher workshops, often held in collaboration with local groups like the Grout Museum, the Hearst Center for the Arts and the Waterloo/Cedar Falls Symphony. The center is also an educational outreach partner of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, with informal connections and collaborations with many other centers and other institutions across the state and country.
Recent projects include a traveling exhibit on the role of doctors and nurses as rescuers in humanitarian crises around the world, which
has been in Des Moines, Waterloo and Memphis, Tenn., and is heading to North Dakota, Illinois and Indiana. In partnership with
the Hearst Center for the Arts, the CHGE will commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of the rescue of Jews in Denmark with a
photo exhibit, a guest speaker, a film series and a book reading group
in October and November.
Gaies doesn’t see the need for the center diminishing; on the contrary, he finds it more important than ever. “No one could have predicted the relevance and urgency of the issues that we deal with—the rise of authoritarianism around the world, growing dangers of global warming, inequitable distribution of resources, increasing power of corporate entities, plus the growth of social injustice, identity politics, nationalism and tribalism—all of these things are like a lethal mix that put human rights at greater and greater peril,” said Gaies.
The CHGE depends on gifts and grants for much of its programming and other activities. A gift from UNI alumnus Norman Cohn and his family to fund an annual lecture series has long been the anchor of the CHGE’s programming, and other generous gifts have funded traveling exhibits and an annual film series, in addition to many other events. In April 2019, the CHGE will organize a Holocaust remembrance ceremony for the 13th consecutive year.
Gaies speaking in the rotunda of the State Capitol in Des Moines on March 23, 2018, at a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the letter written by Archbishop Damaskinos protesting the Nazi deportation of Jews from Greece—the sole case in
which the leader of a religion spoke out against Nazi persecution and murder.