Yair Auron is an Israeli historian, scholar and expert specializing on Holocaust and genocide studies. Auron, who is Professor at the Open University in Israel, is also the author of several books and publications about the Armenian Genocide, and on the last May was awarded with the Armenian Presidential Prize for his genocide research.
We interviewed him about the upcoming international conference “The Study of the Shoah and Genocide - 20th Commemoration of the Rwanda Genocide”, that will take place at the Open University on November 4-5 (you can find the program in the further insights at the end of the article) and where Gabriele Nissim will have a speech about the “Universal value of the righteous and education to personal responsibility and to genocide prevention”.
How was the idea of the conference born?
First of all, it’s wonderful. The program has succeeded my expectations. But what is important, is there are people from Rwanda who are coming and wanting awareness to be raised, which is very important to me. I especially went a year ago to Rwanda to prepare conference in speaking with them and knowing their vision and their expectation. There are many conferences regarding Rwandan genocide but no one participated from the country. This is because people made a conference about them without consulting their expectations, their critics, their suffering. This is terrible for me. What is very important for me to tell you, to emphasize, is that this is the first time in all of history that we have in Israel an international conference talking about the genocide. We are discussing all the genocides and talking about the future.
For the future we have other important initiatives, such as the one on November 2015, to commemorate the centenary of the Armenian genocide. This is also very important academically. My university is the only university of Israel who is teaching genocide. All the others are teaching only about the Holocaust. We have chosen not to teach Holocaust because its happened to us. The Holocaust is an international event by every meaning, of course, but its unacceptable that we leave and don’t identify the suffering of another people. It has been more than 20 years that I’ve been struggling for it and honestly I am proud of it.
Did you face resistance in the past for other initiatives about other genocides not only the Holocaust?
The university system is strict so of course I was obliged to respect it. I can tell you that in 1994 I was asked by the board of education what was the meaning of the talk about the shiite movement. And I said it was to teach students in college about genocide. I have received also a very lot of very positive reaction from that people learn about the activity of suffering in the world. In ’94 I collect materials about Rwandan genocide. Later on, it’s a long story, but it was rejected to be a new curriculum. Now I can collect this material, exactly 20 years later! And the next year we will have the program about genocide! Now at the university I have much more freedom and I credit the university for 2 courses about genocide as one of the main courses. We teach the issue of Holocaust and genocide in the world. In 2006-2007 I began a undergraduate course called Genocide with 70 students, and now we have around 2500 students every year. The biggest course in the world.
Do you think that talking about other genocides and not only the Holocaust could lessen the importance and the victims of the Holocaust?
No! I say on the contrary. We have obligations to the State and to the community to remember the event. To help people understand, we also talk about the suffering of the Rwandans and the Armenians. This does not lessen the importance of the Holocaust, because the story of the Holocaust shows us the importance of human life. And this value is equal for Jews, Gipsies, Armenians, Rwandans…and also Palestinian. Because human life is equal, and we are all equal.
Do you think it’s important to honor the Righteous for all the genocide in this situation?
Of course! And because of this, when Gabriele Nissim asked me to open an Israeli branch of Gariwo here in the Open University, I said yes. Yad Vashem is honoring the Righteous who saved Jews during the Holocaust, but there were people who in that period saved Gipsy and homosexuals, and people who in Rwanda saved tutsi from the hutu violence.
And this is a way to give importance to the Righteous of the Holocaust, because it shows that their values are universal.