Located in the town of Orange is the 150-year-old Chapman University, which has provided a personalized education in a private university setting. As one of the oldest, most prestigious universities in California, it has yet another claim – that of being home to the world-renowned Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education. And on April 25, Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize recipient, Holocaust survivor, and human-rights advocate, will return to Chapman University to participate in a fundraising event marking the 10th anniversary of the Rodgers Center and Stern Chair in Holocaust Education.
During his visit, he also will speak to Chapman students and to middle and high school students who submitted winning entries in the 11th Annual Holocaust Art and Writing Contest sponsored by Chapman and The “1939” Club, a Holocaust survivor organization. The contest involves thousands of Southern California middle and high school teachers and students. The awards ceremony brings them, their parents, and Holocaust survivors to the campus, giving them an opportunity to visit and explore this extraordinary Center.
In his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Wiesel addressed the connection between the past and the present and spoke about the special responsibility that he and other survivors feel for our world. “As long as one dissident is in prison, our freedom will not be true. As long as one child is hungry, our lives are filled with anguish and shame. What all these victims need above all is to know that they are not alone; that we are not forgetting them, that when their voices are stifled we shall lend them ours, that while their freedom depends on ours, the quality of our freedom depends on theirs. . . . Our lives no longer belong to us alone; they belong to all those who need us desperately.” Unfortunately, in our world today dissidents remain in prison, children go hungry, and human rights are violated.
Wiesel and his wife, Marion, established The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity soon after he was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for Peace. The Foundation’s mission, rooted in the memory of the Holocaust, is to combat indifference, intolerance, and injustice through international dialogue and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality. For his literary and human rights activities, he has received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom. As the author of more than forty books of fiction and non-fiction, Wiesel has also received more than 100 honorary degrees from institutions of higher learning.
In February of this year, President Barack Obama presented the 2009 National Humanities Medals to eight Americans for their outstanding achievements in history, literature, cultural philanthropy, and museum leadership. Wiesel was awarded for “his unwavering commitment to preserving the memory of the Holocaust and its victims. He has fostered compassion and understanding through his writing, his leadership, and his relentless advocacy for human rights.”
Chapman University is committed to Holocaust education and believes that it is vital for all individuals. In studying the Holocaust, “we confront the depths of inhumanity and the heights of humanity; and a young person who meets a Holocaust survivor is forever changed.” But as such opportunities are becoming rare, it is even more urgent to prepare today’s young people to become witnesses to the future. Within a very few decades, there will be no more survivors to testify to the reality of the ghettos, concentration camps, and death marches. For there to be “voices of witness,” it becomes imperative that the message continue through the voices of those generations that follow. Chapman University is dedicated to ensuring that those generations are prepared to carry that message.
While Chapman University has undergone many changes and transitions during its 150 year history, the university has always remained focused on the intellectual, social, physical and spiritual dimensions of their students’ lives. The university’s Diversity & Equity Initiatives are designed to engage the Chapman Community in learning experiences fostering a campus environment that stresses personal dignity, diversity, equity, civility and global citizenship. The Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education was a natural outgrowth of this commitment.
Founded in February 2000 through a generous gift from Barry and Phyllis Rodgers, the Center is dedicated to prepare young people to become witnesses to the future. The following September, a major gift from Ralph and Sue Stern endowed a faculty position. That assured that Holocaust education would be included as part of the university’s curriculum for generations to come.
Holocaust education at Chapman University has grown from a single course into a distinctive multi-faceted program. The Rodgers Center for Holocaust Education is one of only a very few centers in the United States located in and supported by a private university. The Center also collaborates with other institutions and organizations to present major conferences and seminars for educators, such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Annual Southern California Forum on Teacher Education.
During Wiesel’s first visit to Chapman, he took part in dedication ceremonies for the university’s Sala and Aron Samueli Holocaust Memorial Library. On that visit in April 2005 – which also marked the 60th anniversary of his release from the Buchenwald concentration camp – the university unveiled a large bronze bust of Wiesel near the entrance of the Holocaust Memorial Library where it welcomes visitors. Wiesel also received an honorary doctorate degree from Chapman at that time.
“It was a tremendous honor to have Professor Wiesel visit our campus once, and it is an even greater honor that he has chosen to return,” said Marilyn Harran, Ph.D., Stern Chair in Holocaust Studies at Chapman and director of the Rodgers Center.
The gala, on April 25, is entitled “Our Promise to Remember: An Evening of Humanity and Hope.” Wiesel will speak at the dinner. Individual tickets to the gala are sold out, but some tables remain. For information about the gala and purchasing a table, please call Chapman Special Events at (714) 997-6589. Proceeds from the gala will help to support the Rodgers Center’s educational mission and programs.