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Our Mission

The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies advances the public liberal arts mission of Keene State College by studying and bearing witness to the Holocaust and genocide in the hope that present and future generations take responsibility for building a world free of antisemitism, intolerance, and hate.

To this end, the Cohen Center joins the campus community and its many partners in promoting an active and informed citizenry committed to mutual respect and justice.

Cohen Center History

The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is much more than a resource center, though that is how the center began. In conjunction with his commitments to racial, ethnic, and religious diversity, Prof. Charles Hildebrandt undertook a sabbatical in fall 1982 with the express purpose of establishing a Holocaust Resource Center at Keene State College, to develop a course on the Sociology of the Holocaust, and to become a resource person on the subject for his colleagues and friends of the College in the community. With a little over 200 books collected during his sabbatical, Prof. Hildebrandt opened the Holocaust Resource Center at Keene State College in January 1983.

In 2000, the Center became the Center for Holocaust Studies and then, a year later, the Cohen Center for Holocaust Studies in 2001 when the College received a transformative gift from Jan and Rick Cohen to underwrite significant portions of the Center’s work and to name the center in honor of Rick’s parents, Lester and Norma Cohen. Later, in September 2009, the name grew to the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies to express the Center’s expanded mission to include its study and work with genocide.

Rooted in the College’s public liberal arts mission, the Cohen Center is now a leading educational center devoted to the memory and study of the Holocaust and genocide. The original resource center has grown from a collection of 200 books and other media to a library of nearly 6000 volumes, which supports the College’s academic program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies. The program, the first undergraduate major in Holocaust & Genocide Studies in the nation, includes both an inter-disciplinary major and minor in this subject area. The program became a formal department at the College in 2012 when Dr. Nona Fienberg returned from sabbatical.

To date, over 300 individuals and institutions throughout the state, region, and nation have joined the College in supporting the Cohen Center’s active efforts to confront antisemitism, intolerance, and hate; and to build communities distinguished by active regard for the welfare of all its citizens. In this spirit, Keene State College through the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, and a number of other similarly committed programs, embodies an exemplary partnership between public higher education and the communities it serves.

The programs sponsored and coordinated by the Cohen Center include two annual public lectures (the Holocaust Memorial Lecture and the Genocide Awareness Lecture), a Community-wide Kristallnacht Remembrance Event hosted annually by The Colonial Theatre, yearly trips (one for students, one for community leaders) to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, an annual Hildebrandt Awards Night, a yearly commemoration of Yom HaShoah, and a variety of outreach opportunities for educators and other community leaders, including a biennial,

residential Summer Institute on Holocaust and Genocide Studies.

The Cohen Center is located in the heart of Keene State College on the first floor of Mason Library. Visitors will often find the Center’s Susan J. Herman Reading Room in active use, either by a class in the academic program, a meeting or other gathering for the Center, or by students using the room for study and reflection. Staff offices and the Center’s collection are accessible from a rear hallway when the reading room is in use.

The Center is guided by a professional staff of three: Henry Knight, Director; Tom White, Coordinator of Educational Outreach, and Michele Kuiawa, Senior Program Support Assistant. They are supported by an active, volunteer Advisory Council and work synergistically with members of the faculty in Holocaust and Genocide Studies, especially Prof. C. Paul Vincent, Coordinator of the academic program and Prof. James Waller, holder of the Cohen Chair for Holocaust & Genocide Studies.

A recipient of the New England Higher Education Excellence Award in 2008 and recognized as a Center of Excellence by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, the Cohen Center maintains a strong, catalytic presence on campus and in the many communities it serves by providing a variety of programs and services: