By Tom Dalton
---- — SALEM — More than 30 years ago, Holocaust survivor Sonia Weitz of Peabody and her friend Harriet Wacks dreamed of educating future generations about the tragic lessons of World War II.
That dream came true when they founded the Holocaust Center Boston North in Peabody, began videotaping oral histories of Holocaust survivors, established relationships with school districts and launched a number of public programs.
Tomorrow, that dream will find a permanent home when Salem State University announces plans to open the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, an interdisciplinary program of research, education and community outreach.
“This is something we thought about before Sonia died three years ago,” said Wacks, executive director of the Holocaust Center Boston North. “What is the future of the Holocaust Center and how can we guarantee the important work we do is going to be passed on to the next generation?”
Plans will be announced tomorrow at noon at the Salem State Enterprise Center. In addition to Wacks, speakers include Sandy Weitz, Sonia’s daughter; Holocaust survivors and Salem State President Patricia Meservey.
This project got a major boost last year when the university received a One World Boston, Cummings Foundation grant to partner with the Peabody center.
The announcement was hailed by officials at Salem State, which already has a number of courses and programs on the Holocaust and genocide studies, including a Rwandan oral history project focusing on immigrants from Lynn.
“It’s a great fit,” said Christopher Mauriello, chairman of the history department at Salem State and vice president of the board of directors at the Peabody center. “We have faculty at Salem State who, for the last three years, have been working together in interdisciplinary Holocaust and comparative genocide” studies.
“We want people to know that the mission (of the Peabody center) is going to continue and expand, and reach a whole new generation of students. Nothing’s going away. It’s actually continuing and expanding. ... It’s really exciting for both institutions.”
Another key player in this joint effort is Rob McAndrews, a professor of social work at Salem State and president of the board of the Peabody center. McAndrews and Mauriello will be co-coordinators of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
Although a campus site has not been selected, Salem State has committed to providing “real quality space,” according to Mauriello, that will include faculty offices, a conference room and an area to display rotating exhibits.
Under the agreement, archival material from the Peabody center, which includes video interviews with more than 100 Holocaust survivors and a number of artifacts, will move to Salem State.
As a result of the Cummings Foundation grant, many related efforts are underway or being planned, including establishment of a lecture series and teacher education programs.
In addition, a student group from Salem State went to Germany this spring for a one-week institute on “Nazi Germany and the Holocaust,” and courses begin this summer in a graduate certificate program in Holocaust and genocide studies.
Tom Dalton can be reached at email@example.com.