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Holocaust, Genocide and Antisemitism Today

Holocaust Memorial Day marks 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In recognition of this day, the Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism is holding two talks that reflect on the significance of the Holocaust today.

'The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe', Berlin. Image by Kalahari, Pixabay

On Holocaust Memorial Day we remember the millions of Jews murdered, along with many other victims of Nazi persecution, as well as the victims of other genocides.

The Pears Institute for the study of Antisemitism at Birkbeck is holding two events that reflect on the significance of the Holocaust as history and for our own times.

Lives Unworthy of Life? Disability Pride Versus Eugenics, Wednesday 29 January

Tom Shakespeare, Professor of Disability Research at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, will discuss the international eugenics movement before and after 1900, and the euthanasia it resulted in during the Nazi regime. The German sociologist Norbert Elias authored The Civilising Process in 1939. By 1941, his own mother was murdered in the Holocaust. How can we combat hate crime and antisocial attacks on disabled people today?  What does society require in order to maintain civilisation? Find out more.

A Bystander Society? Passivity and Complicity in Nazi Germany, 18 February

The theme for Holocaust Memorial Day 2020, chosen by the HMD Trust, is ‘Stand Together’. Addressing this theme, the distinguished German history scholar Professor Mary Fulbrook, University College London questions our tendency to shine a spotlight on the stories of courageous individuals who stood up against violence, showed solidarity with victims, and were not content to remain passive bystanders. A focus on individuals alone is not enough, she argues. It is not only a matter of personal commitment but also broader circumstances that explain whether or not significant numbers of people are prepared to ‘stand together’ and make a difference.

Exploring experiences of Nazi persecution, Professor Fulbrook analyses the conditions under which people were more or less likely to show sympathy with victims of persecution, or to become complicit with racist policies and practices. In seeking to combat collective violence, understanding the conditions for widespread passivity may be as crucial as encouraging individuals to stand up for others in the face of prejudice and oppression. Find out More.

Understanding Antisemitism Today

The Nazi genocide of the Jews has provoked subsequent generations to vow “never again”. Nevertheless, both genocide and antisemitism continue, in different ways, to scar the world. The persistence of antisemitism, both in Britain and globally, is clear for all to see. It manifests in hate crime figures, in opinion surveys, on social media, in political discourse and in murderous attacks on Jewish targets. It is a subject that is explosive and controversial, but one that is often poorly understood, leaving some people troubled and others perplexed. It provokes urgent questions that should concern us all.

At Birkbeck we have developed a new short course, Facing Antisemitism: Politics, Culture, History, to explore the sources, development and contemporary forms of antisemitism. Open to students and the public, and taught over three evenings, it draws on history and the social sciences, to answer questions such as: How can we recognise and define antisemitism? How does it relate to other forms of racism? How widespread is antisemitism? Where does it come from? Why does it persist? One of the important features of the course is that at Birkbeck we consider antisemitism as a form of racism. This perspective makes it possible to identify the specificities of antisemitism, as well as its connections with other forms of prejudice and domination. Half a century ago, opposition to antisemitism and opposition to other racisms were closely aligned. Today, these connections are slender, and for many, there has been a parting of ways. This is nowhere more apparent than in the debate over Israel and Palestine. This course navigates this contested history and provides the concepts to understand the relationship between anti-Zionism, anti-racism and antisemitism. It is a course for students who seek a better understanding of today’s troubled times. Enrolling now for April 2020: if you want to learn more about antisemitism, this course is for you.

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