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Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education at Tufts University

View this student-produced video to learn about the Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education


On April 17, 2013, internationally known human rights activist and best-selling author John Prendergast spoke at Tufts University’s Cabot/ASEAN Auditorium on “The Politics of Genocide Response and Prevention: The Case for Darfur and South Sudan.” A native of Indianapolis, Prendergast has been recognized for his groundbreaking efforts to end crimes against humanity.

View event flier

View John Prendergast's biography

View photos from the event

Medford Patch - April 9, 2013




"Holocaust by Bullets: A Priest's Journey to Uncover the Truth Behind the Murder of 1.5 Million Jews."

Father Patrick Desbois, a noted Holocaust researcher and president of Yahad-In-Unum, spoke to more than 400 students and community members on March 13 at Tufts University's Cohen Auditorium. The French Catholic priest detailed his work revealing undiscovered mass graves from the Holocaust through interviews with residents of small villages in Eastern Europe.

View a video of the lecture

View photos from the event

View event flierTufts Daily – March 14, 2012

Woburn Advocate – March 20, 2012


On November 9, 2011, the Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education brought Dr. John Saunders to Tufts University to share his incredible first-hand account of Holocaust survival. With a standing-room-only audience of more than 300 students, Saunders recounted his struggle to survive genocide and persecution while imprisoned at Auschwitz, Birkenau, Mauthausen and Gusen I concentration camps. His extraordinary story includes accounts of escape, recapture, and a face-to-face encounter with Auschwitz’s “Angel of Death,” Dr. Joseph Mengele. The evening also featured the moving exhibit, “Gates of Hell, Private Tolkatchev,” made possible by the American Society for Yad Vashem.

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View photos from the event

Weston Town Crier – November 3, 2011

Tufts Daily – November 10, 2011


It's said that the shortest distance between two people is a story. Beginning at age 14, Eliezer Ayalon, a Pole, was imprisoned in five different Nazi concentration camps before he was liberated, near death, in May 1945. The harrowing description of his experiences greatly moved Bill and Joyce Cummings when they met Ayalon at Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem in October 2009.

Inspired to think broadly about how education might help prevent such horrors from occurring again, Joyce and Bill established a program at Tufts University to raise awareness of both the Holocaust and contemporary genocides.

Joyce and Bill, both practicing Christians, feel very strongly that genocide studies should be issues of intense global concern, rather than being specific to any one group. Although their original proposal to Tufts University was for sponsorship of a program for Holocaust education, it since became apparent the scope should be much larger to include content about all forms of prejudice and intolerance.

Pre-program Activities


Each June since 2010, IWJ has sponsored interfaith groups of Tufts students to visit Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village outside Kigali, in eastern Rwanda. Inspired by Israeli youth villages that took in Holocaust orphans, Agahozo-Shalom houses more than 400 students, many of whom are orphans of the Rwandan genocide, who live there for three years while attending high school. Agahozo means "a place where tears are dried."

After each program, many of the participating students wrote moving personal letters describing their first-hand experiences at this large settlement. Read a selection of the letters written after the 2010 program as well as excerpts from the letters sent following the 2011 program.


"Thank you again for allowing this experience to take place. While none of us can promise that we will save the world, I know that no one will let his or her inspiration go to waste."


Ayalon Lecture

The second public activity of the program was the October 2010 visit of Eliezer Ayalon, the Holocaust survivor who inspired the Cummings/Hillel Program for Holocaust and Genocide Education. He came to Tufts directly from Jerusalem where he has been affiliated for many years with Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum. After earlier talks that day in Woburn and Medford, Massachusetts, a very fit and spry Elie Ayalon addressed an overflow audience of mostly Tufts undergraduates in Cabot Auditorium. Click here to view Ayalon at Tufts.

Brad Petrishen, then of the Winchester Star, wrote an impassioned front-page story about the impactful session. The Tufts Daily also covered the Ayalon event, including introductory comments from Rabbi Jeffrey Summit who told the audience that he hoped to make students more responsive to injustice in the world. "Many people here, at some point, will be called on to make moral decisions where our actions will count, and where we can have a profound impact on others' lives," Summit said. "We believe that education can and should move us to action, and that engaged citizens can and will raise a moral voice and rise to moral actions in our lives."

The Tufts Daily article also conveyed student reactions to Ayalon's presentation. Hillel President Rachel Finn called the event a great success. Finn, a senior, said, "the crowd listening really understood the magnitude of what he was speaking about." Sophomore Miriam Ross-Hirsch, a co-chair of freshman programming at Hillel, said she hoped that the lessons from the Holocaust would help prepare students to fight to prevent future genocides.

Cummings Foundation was greatly saddened by Ayalon's passing in May 2012. Shortly thereafter the Foundation made a contribution to help establish a fund in his honor at Yad Vashem.

Survivors Speak: An Evening with Genocide Survivors

In February 2011, approximately 250 Tufts students had the opportunity to take part in a discussion with survivors of 20th-century genocides around the world. A large audience at Cabot Auditorium listened intently to five inspiring panelists:

  • Maurice Vanderpol, a survivor of the Nazi regime in 1940
  • Sayon Soeun, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide of 1975-79
  • Jasmina Cesic, a survivor of the Bosnian civil war in the early 1990s
  • Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide in 1994
  • Khatchig Mouradian, editor of the Armenian Weekly and a Ph.D candidate in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University

The speakers impressed upon the students the importance of both recognizing the early warning signs of genocide and taking action to prevent situations from turning into genocide. Urging the students to be activists, Mouradian said, "There's never a better time to stand up against human rights violations than here and now." Click here to view a video of the discussion. Click here to read about the event in a Tufts Daily article.

Film and Discussion: Love Letters From Camp-Bergen-Belsen and Westerbork

In March 2011, Holocaust survivors Jaap Polak and Ina Soep visited Tufts University to talk with students about the book they co-authored, Steal a Pencil for Me. The evening included a discussion of the couple's Holocaust experiences, followed by a screening of a riveting documentary film based on their book.

Subtitled, Love letters from camp-Bergen-Belsen and Westerbork, the book and film chronicle the authors' incredible courtship, which occurred through the exchange of letters, delivered by intermediaries, while they were both concentration camp inmates. Jaap said a large part of the book's importance derives from the fact that his and Ina's letters were written between 1943 and 1945, thus providing a first-hand account of the squalid conditions and unfathomable deprivations the prisoners faced.

Jaap and Ina's granddaughter, Sophia, is a Tufts student who was instrumental in bringing the couple to the Medford, Massachusetts campus from their Eastchester, New York home to host the film screening. Sophia reported on the event for the University's daily newspaper, and closed her article with the following:

"By empowering our generation with knowledge, and the courage to take a stand against human rights violations, we have the power to prevent future genocides. . . Seeing the passion in my grandfather's eyes as he talks to teenagers who have never heard of Anne Frank is inspiring, and at age 98, he won't be able to give those lectures forever. That's why our generation must step in. We must take as much information as we can possibly get our hands on and continue the legacy of these amazing people."

2011-2012 Cummings/Hillel Program Outline


Through the study of the Holocaust and contemporary genocide, the innovative programs described below will teach Tufts students to be active citizens confronting prejudice, intolerance, racism, anti-Semitism, and homophobia. Working in conjunction with a wide range of campus cultural, religious, and activist groups, Tufts Hillel is developing programming that will educate members of the Tufts community about the history of the Holocaust. This history encompasses the historical, social, cultural, and religious factors that led to a drastic increase in anti-Semitism and persecution in Germany, as well as the world's reaction to the rise of the Third Reich. Special attention will be paid to examples of physical and spiritual resistance during this period, and the role of righteous gentiles who sheltered and protected Jews.

The program will also focus on the larger issues of genocide education and prevention in our global community. As such, an important component will be activism and advocacy in relation to ongoing contemporary genocides. Drawing from examples of courageous men and women who have stood up to oppression, and resisted and raised a moral voice, Tufts hopes to teach a new generation the importance of moral action in the face of persecution and oppression. To have the deepest impact on campus and in the community, the programming follows Tufts Hillel's CASE methodology (Community partnerships, Advocacy, Service, and Education).

2011-2012 Program Components

While the program will be supplemented by various student-led initiatives developed during the year, the plan for this initial year includes five major elements:

A lecture by a Holocaust survivor.
A major component of the program will involve bringing first-hand witnesses, Holocaust survivors, to campus to present a lecture. This event will follow the model of the 2010 pilot program with Holocaust survivor Eliezer Ayalon. Ayalon's lecture was attended by students, faculty, administration, local Tufts parents, and alumni, as well as the surrounding community. It was web-broadcast over Tufts University's website for the broader Tufts community.

An academic course on the Holocaust and contemporary genocide.
This course will be taught in the Judaic Studies program, and cross-listed with the History Department.

A panel discussion - "From Intractable Conflict to Co-existence."
This panel discussion will address productive conflict resolution with major interfaith leaders who work for co-existence and conflict reconciliation. It will be followed by interactive workshops with student leaders currently engaged in interfaith, intercultural, and political conflict on campus.

The Berlin Experience: Assessing Germany's Response to the Holocaust.
This four-day trip will bring 30 students to Berlin to visit historical sites, museums, and local commemorative sites, as well as to meet with German students for discussion. Student evaluations of the pilot trip in the spring of 2008 showed it had a profound and transformative impact on their understanding of social responsibility and active citizenship in response to genocide.

As a sample itinerary, the 2008 trip included visits to the site of the Wannsee Conference, the location of the organization and implementation of "The Final Solution;" Memorial Site Platform 17, one of the former deportation train stations in Berlin-Grunewald; and the former concentration camp of Sachsenhausen. Students also visited the Pestalozzistrasse Synagogue, the Old Jewish Quarter of Berlin, and the extraordinary Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. Berlin's post-Holocaust history was examined through visits to Checkpoint Charlie, sites of the former Berlin Wall, and the open-air exhibit, "Topography of Terror," the site of both the Gestapo headquarters and the Stazi secret police.

Two pre-trip lectures oriented participants to Berlin and the role it had in the rise of the Third Reich. A week following the trip, the students gathered for a seminar addressing the questions: "How has Germany responded to the legacy of the Holocaust?" and "Why do we study the Holocaust?" Additionally, upon their return to campus, participants had the responsibility of being involved in planning a campus program on the Holocaust or contemporary responses to genocide.

Student Volunteer Trip to the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village, Rwanda.
Each summer since 2009, Hillel has sent an interfaith group of 20 students to volunteer at the Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda, and study the impact of contemporary genocide on society. Students tour memorial sites and spend time living in the village, working on community service projects, and meeting with genocide survivors. Upon returning to campus, students are actively engaged in designing educational programs on the Rwandan genocide, raising funds for the village, and promoting awareness about educational and reconciliation initiatives in Rwanda.

Tufts' Commitment to Genocide Education

Over the years, Tufts University has implemented a wide range of Holocaust programming involving students from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. Tufts is deeply committed to addressing the lessons that can be learned from the Holocaust. How do we develop communities that teach the value and profound worth of human life? How do we train students to stand up, raise a moral voice, and engage in moral action to resist persecution and prejudice? How do we build bridges between groups that too often see themselves in conflict? How do we understand, and then transform, the tropes of racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and prejudice? These questions continue to shape and guide our work to develop programming in Christian/Muslim/Jewish relations, the Moral Voices program, our work with orphans of Rwandan genocide, and much more.

There is a tremendous amount yet to be done. Over the next several years, there will be fewer and fewer survivors and first-hand witnesses left to share their stories. Their legacies must be kept alive. Future generations of Tufts students have to understand the lessons of the Holocaust, and raise their voices to draw attention to and stop similar atrocities from happening anywhere in the world.

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