About the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
“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
(An Austrian Jewish survivor describes to General Dwight Eisenhower the use of the gallows in the camp.)
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 hope to prevent its recurrence. Understanding the circumstances that drive genocide and other mass atrocity crimes is an imperative for the young men and women preparing to become future military leaders. Without a doubt, these future officers and global first responders must possess nuanced understandings of the contexts in which mass atrocities occur, the role militaries have played, and the responsibility they—as the nation’s rising leaders—have in preventing imminent occurrences.
Through multidisciplinary programming, research, travel, and work with the Department of Defense, West Point’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies (CHGS) imparts a deep sense of history, ethics, and responsibility, producing ethically sophisticated and intellectually nimble officers who are aware of the dynamics of genocide and better equipped to prevent mass atrocity in the future.
A Growing Need
In 2012, mass atrocity prevention became part of U.S. Joint Doctrine and a requirement for the Armed Forces. In 2015, atrocity prevention was incorporated into President Obama’s National Security Strategy. And in 2018, President Trump’s National Security Strategy included the following “Priority Action”:
“We will not remain silent in the face of evil. We will hold perpetrators of genocide and mass atrocities accountable.”
As the importance of atrocity prevention has grown at national and international levels, so has demand for the Center’s courses, programs and expertise. West Point cadets are showing great interest in the Center’s flagship courses, and want to pursue research, thesis, and capstone projects in the field. Faculty seek to incorporate CHGS expert content into existing required courses, in disciplines such as Law, Social Science, Geography, Systems Engineering, Math, Officership, and more. Beyond the Academy, requests for collaborative research and case study production from organizations including the U.S. National Defense University, multiple War Colleges and the Royal Military College; as well as colleges, universities, and non-governmental organizations from around the world.
Honoring the Army’s and Humanity’s Historical Legacy
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 was also voiced 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 of character committed to protecting and promoting human rights.
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. These courses have been offered annually since 2016 or earlier:
Genocide and Mass Killing: A comparative study of instances of genocide and ethnic cleansing from countries and regions around the globe.
The Holocaust and Its Legacy: An in-depth examination of the causes, course, and legacy of the Holocaust.
Both courses integrate concepts and faculty from a variety of academic disciplines. This helps 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 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. It has also contributed to the development of multiple new or augmented courses at the Air Force and Naval Academies. The Reserve Officer Training Corps uses its Ordinary Soldiers case study for the required education of officers nationwide. This integration not only provides cadets and midshipmen/women with a more comprehensive understanding of genocide and mass atrocity, but it also enhances faculty development, faculty research, and inter-academy intellectual exchange.
In addition to course work, West Point cadets and faculty, as well as other service academy students, benefit from a range of research and travel opportunities supported by the CHGS.
Expanding West Point's Reach
While cadets are the priority for the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, its work extends to the entire West Point community, the Army, the Department of Defense, and the global scholarly community as well. The CHGS facilitates an annual Mass Atrocity Education Workshop for service academy and Armed Forces Profession Military Education faculty in cooperation with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. At West Point the Center supports a robust lecture series as well as panels, conferences, art and film exhibitions. These events attract a prominent cadre of scholars, policy-makers, genocide survivors, artists, and even perpetrators to the Academy to share experiences, insights, new perspectives, and warnings.
The CHGS also specifically benefits the Department of Defense. West Point graduates automatically enter the Army and because of their unique knowledge bases, provide the Army with capacity to monitor atrocity and human rights violations and develop tactics of prevention. Some of these individuals have already been selected to return to teach at West Point as part of our younger active-duty officer cohort. After completing graduate-level studies in atrocity-related subjects, and contributing to the Center’s elective courses and research, they return to the field army, ready to share a broadened perspective and apply leadership lessons learned. The Center Director maintains close ties with the Advisor for Atrocity Prevention and Response in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. 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 multiple combatant commands through research, currently supporting a multidisciplinary projects which assess risk of atrocity in specific countries, develop mass atrocity early warning tools, use economics and psychology to explain motivations for genocide, examine the impact of climate change and water vulnerabilities on risk of mass violence, and more.
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. Troy Schnack of the Association of Graduates