An Austrian Jewish survivor describes to General Dwight Eisenhower the use of the gallows in the camp.
|“The more I try to come to terms with this hideous history, the more fortified my morals and resolution become. With each memory my resolve to combat hatred, racism, and injustice strengthens. Furthermore, I have a deeper grasp on the meaning of my responsibility as a future officer.”|
— Cadet Regina Woronowicz ‘11
Genocide, described by scholars as one of the defining historical developments of the 20th century, reveals a darker side of humanity—a side that requires better understanding. If we cannot grasp the circumstances that drive mass atrocity and if we do not make sense of genocide, how can we hope to prevent its recurrence?
It is imperative for the young men and women preparing to become future military leaders to possess a nuanced understanding of the context in which mass atrocities occur, the role militaries have played, and the responsibility they—as our country’s future leaders—have in preventing future occurrences. The West Point Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies endeavors to be the nation’s premier center for educating current and future military leaders on how past genocides have occurred and what can be done to prevent them in the future.
The center delves into the causes , contexts, and consequences of genocide while instilling within our country’s future leadership a deep sense of history, ethics, and responsibility. It produces practical, actionable knowledge useful to cadets and midshipmen at all the service academies, to the Army, to the Department of Defense, and to the nation. In its full form, it will bolster Holocaust and genocide studies for generations to come.
Wisdom through History
On a June 2009 visit to Buchenwald, site of one of the first and largest concentration camps on German soil, President Barack Obama observed that General Dwight Eisenhower was the first to recognize the need to document, study, and remember the atrocities of World War II. When Eisenhower learned of Ohrdruf, a satellite camp of Buchenwald, he brought Generals George Patton and Omar Bradley to examine the camp, then littered with over 1,000 dead bodies.
Later, once American forces liberated Buchenwald, Eisenhower ordered every soldier not actively engaged in frontline fighting to visit the camps. “We are told that the American GI does not always know what he is fighting for,” noted Eisenhower. “Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.” He recognized that without firsthand evidence and testimony, many people—soldiers and civilians alike—would fail to comprehend the scale of the genocide; others might deny that it happened at all.
Eisenhower realized that by studying history we can learn from the past and make a better future; we can develop not just better soldiers, but better global citizens. Such a belief is also shared by former Secretary General of the United Nations Kofi Annan, who recently encouraged countries around the world to develop rigorous Holocaust education programs that would link “the history of the Holocaust with the prevention of ethnic conflict and genocide in today’s world.” West Point understands the value of developing such programs and studying history, and sees both as critical tools to developing responsible leaders and promoting human rights.
||As part of the Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation’s American Service Academies Program, West Point Cadets Ben Dratch (left) and Jesse Faugstad (right) restored an old Jewish cemetery in Krakow, Poland. |
Understanding and Preventing Genocide
Located in the Department of History, the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) tasks include enhancing the cadet curriculum, developing faculty, advancing scholarship, and solidifying West Point’s reputation as the nation’s preeminent leader development institution. As it is central to the Academy’s mission of educating and inspiring cadets, the center has developed an advanced, historically-based, but highly multidisciplinary cadet curriculum. This primary components of this initiative are two new elective courses, which will be offered beginning in 2013:
Both courses will integrate concepts and faculty from a variety of academic disciplines. This will promote the center’s other primary curricular task: to assist and encourage faculty in other academic departments to integrate Holocaust- and genocide-related lessons into existing courses. The center has already helped create new material for West Point’s courses on Military and Constitutional Law, Introduction to Psychology, and the History of the Military Art, and West Point’s capstone course for officership. Faculty teaching required courses in Law and Psychology at the Air Force and Naval Academies, and several Professors of Military Science in Reserve Officer Training Corps programs have also begun to assimilate CHGS developed products. This integration will not only provide cadets and midshipmen with a more comprehensive understanding of genocide, but it will also aid in faculty development, further faculty research, and inter-academy intellectual exchange. In addition to course work, West Point cadets and faculty will benefit from numerous research and travel opportunities the CHGS will offer in partnership with:
- Genocide and Ethnic Cleansing: A comparative study of instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing from countries and regions around the globe, including, but not limited to, Armenia, Cambodia, Rwanda, the Balkans, and the Soviet Union.
- Holocaust Studies: An in-depth examination of the causes, course, and legacy of the Holocaust.
- The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Committee on Conscience
- Army commands, including African Command, European Command, and the Army War College
- The Auschwitz Jewish Center Foundation
- KZ Gedenkstätte Flossenbürg
- Auschwitz Institute on Peace and Reconciliation
- The MARO project [a joint Peacekeeping and Stability Operations/Harvard Carr Center effort]
- The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia
||Each year, cadets travel to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC. Pictured with cadets is Holocaust survivor Nesse Godin after she addressed the group. |
Expanding West Point’s Reach
While cadets are a priority for the center, its work will extend to the entire West Point community, the Army, the Department of Defense, and the larger scholarly community as well. The CHGS facilitates a robust lecture series and will regularly convene a major triennial conference—events that have and will attract a prominent cadre of scholars, policy-makers, genocide survivors and even perpetrators to the Academy to share experiences, insights, and warnings. The relationships that develop between these individuals and West Point faculty will help foster collaborative research, which will both add to the center’s body of knowledge and further genocide-related scholarship.
The CHGS also will specifically benefit the Department of Defense. Rotating military faculty members will be able to teach the elective courses and complete graduate-level research by drawing from the center’s scholarly connections, workshops, lectures, and source materials. Following this experience, they will return to the field army, ready to share a broadened perspective and apply leadership lessons gained through their teaching and studies. The center has also assisted DoD policy makers as they consider education and training for all levels of the Armed Forces related to mass atrocity awareness and prevention. Further, the CHGS aids the DoD through research, currently supporting a multidisciplinary research project relating water resource contestation to mass violence in East Central Africa.
The CHGS represents a unique opportunity to enrich the cadet experience while strengthening the moral fibers of the U.S. military overall. The center has rapidly evolved into an information hub, linking all branches of the military and its service academies to civilian academic institutions and non-governmental organizations. As no other service academy has a similar mechanism, West Point’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies is distinct and vital. To keep it so requires additional private support. Should you wish to assist the Academy in making the CHGS permanent, please contact Mr. Mike White of the Association of Graduates.