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Statement on US Congressman John Lewis

Selma, A Landmark
John Lewis, Martin Luther King, and civil rights leaders in Selma, Alabama

They say that the moment we are born is auspicious, a punctuation mark for the rest of our lives. For US congressman John Lewis, not only the time of his birth but the time of his death carries with it huge significance for American society.

John Lewis’ death comes at a time when everything that he worked and fought for in his life is being played out before the American people. “Black Lives Matter” encapsulates in three short words the hopes, aspirations, pain, suffering and deaths that accompanied the struggle that marked John Lewis’ life, and the lives of the many who came before and now follow in his footsteps.

John Lewis
John Lewis, American civil rights activist and (future) member of the House of Representatives (D-Georgia), at meeting of American Society of Newspaper Editors.

In the Marcelo Brodsky image in The Cohen Center John Lewis is pictured as one of the marching protesters alongside Dr Martin Luther King, Rabbi Heschel, Bayard Rustin and others. This picture, as part of The Cohen Center collection, speaks powerfully of the need to be vigilant of the creeping attitudes that can lead us, sleep walking, into normalising atrocity.

As we at The Cohen Center mourn the death of John Lewis, one of the Titans of the Civil Rights Movement, we commit ourselves afresh to the work to which he devoted his life, and his challenge to action that both unsettles and inspires – “I want to see young people in America feel the spirit of the 1960s and find a way to get in the way. To find a way to get in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble.”

Previous Statements

    Statement on the Death of George Floyd

    June 2020

    The murder of George Floyd in broad daylight on a city street by a law-enforcement officer is an affront and an agonizing reminder that no one should ever passively allow hatred, discrimination, and violence to infect a society that we hold dear. For more than a week since Floyd’s killing we have witnessed people across our country and in cities around the world demonstrating because they are angry and frustrated. Not only do they seek answers; not only do they demand justice; they want change. Change requires that we acknowledge and work to dismantle systems that were designed to create and perpetuate privilege. Our system of policing and law enforcement has proven itself to be racist and our aim should be to reform and restructure systems that create, perpetuate, and facilitate hatred and violence.

    Change also embodies an unwavering commitment to stop those who seek to do harm to anyone on the bases of race, color, creed, sexual orientation, religious belief, or physical and/or mental ability. Ours is a pluralistic society in which all—including the non-citizen—must be free to live and love and breathe as they wish. These are principles, we believe, that represent our country’s highest ideals. As an institution dedicated to Holocaust and genocide education, the Cohen Center recognizes its moral obligation to stand against the injustices in our society. We stand with victims of bias and with the families of those who have been senselessly victimized. And as our mission explicitly states, we aim to inspire both students and fellow citizens “to take responsibility for promoting human dignity and civic responsibility while confronting” such violence as can lead “to atrocity and genocide.” Education, the core of our mission in the Center, is one of the most power mechanisms we have for achieving those goals.

    C. Paul Vincent, Ph.D.
    Interim Co-Director, Cohen Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies
    Professor Emeritus, Holocaust Studies and History
    Keene State College
    Keene, New Hampshire

    Statement on Shooting at Congregation Chabad in San Diego

    April 2019

    The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is deeply saddened by the murderous acts of hatred that were perpetrated against communities of faith during their holy days of Easter and Passover. We grieve for and with our brothers and sisters in Sri Lanka and in San Diego. Any act of hatred targeting other human beings is abhorrent. When such acts are aimed at communities gathering for prayer to affirm their identities as people of faith, these acts wound us all in ways that ask us to ponder our obligations to respect the sacred ties that bind us one to another, and to affirm the breath of life that we share and the differences that bless us all with our unique places in the universe.

    Statement on White Supremacy and Hate

    March 2019

    The Cohen Center does not make political statements, but is driven by its mission and charge, “to remember…and to teach.” In that spirit, the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies strongly condemns the growing violence and ongoing threat of white supremacists and the use and manipulation of Nazism and Holocaust memory for political purposes. As ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt stated, “modern white supremacy is an international threat that knows no borders.” Indeed, it is responsible for the violence in places such as Charlottesville, Pittsburgh, and New Zealand and must be condemned.

    Alabama Congressman Mo Brooks’ use of Mein Kampf in his speech to Congress on March 25, 2019 to attack political opponents and the media is historically false, ill-informed, and inappropriate. We share the Alabama Holocaust Commission’s condemnation that “using such rhetoric not only trivializes our past, as well as the victims of this genocide, but also cheapens our current political discourse and maintains a divisive rhetoric all too common at the present time.” We share the Commission’s appeal to encourage political leaders to accurately wrestle with the history of Nazism and fascism and avoid superficial and inaccurate interpretations that are manipulated for personal agendas.

    Additionally, the Cohen Center stands against the growing number of incidents of antisemitism, racism, Islamophobia, and misogyny. We also encourage those using or encountering hate symbols in public settings to recognize the responsibility to reject and not justify hate. We extend our deepest sympathies to the victims and stand in solidarity with the families of those targeted by recent attacks.

    Statement on Tree of Life Synagogue

    October 2018

    The Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies strongly condemns the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and our deepest sympathies are extended to the victims and families of those attacked.

    Once again antisemitism has fed the hatred of someone who has taken the lives of innocent people in our land. What has happened to our friends in the Pittsburgh Jewish community affects all of us. We grieve with them, though surely not with the depth of their pain or sorrow. However, we must do more than grieve. We must resist hating in return. At the same time, we will work to end the spread of the social poison that feeds such hatred. That process begins with being responsible with our language and working in solidarity with others. We will not give in to fear.

    Proudly working with The Center for Peacebuilding CIM which seeks to rebuild trust and foster reconciliation among the people of Bosnia—Croats, Serbs, Bosniaks, and others—as well as support peace processes in other countries that have suffered from violent conflict.


    Contact the Cohen Center

    Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
    Keene State College
229 Main Street

    Keene, NH 03435-3201
    ☎ 603-358-2490