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May 22, 2013

Salem State planning new Holocaust center

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.”

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