Northeastern University has a long and distinguished record of remembrance and commemoration of the Holocaust, dating back to 1977. Today, the Holocaust Awareness Committee (HAC) presents a robust annual series of events -- including lectures, performances, films, and survivor talks -- exploring the history and memory of the Holocaust.

The purpose of the Northeastern University Holocaust Awareness Committee is to annually and publicly remember the Holocaust, not only as historical fact and as a memorial to its millions of victims, but also as a warning. Programs will be presented to bear witness to the Holocaust itself, to explore issues arising out of the war of extermination against Jews and other groups targeted by the Nazis, and to apply lessons learned from the Holocaust to contemporary issues.


Organized in 1977 by the Office of Religious Life (later renamed the Office of Spiritual Life), the first Holocaust remembrance program featured a lecture by distinguished Holocaust scholar Lawrence Langer, as well as a series of survivor testimonies spread out over a few days to allow for maximum student attendance. According to Gerald Herman, a professor of History who died in December 2017, Northeastern at the time required a Western and World Civilizations course that included material on genocide, and students were strongly encouraged to attend the survivor testimonies in order to learn first-hand about the horrors of genocide. [1]


By the early 1980s, these events had evolved into a full Holocaust Remembrance Week. Each week featured conversations with several Holocaust survivors, who generally met with students informally in the dorms, as well as a breakfast for faculty and staff sponsored by the President’s office and featuring a noted speaker. Most years there was a public lecture, a film screening, an interfaith memorial service, and musical, theater, and/or dance performances; art and book exhibits and readings of the names of victims were also regular occurrences.


Holocaust Remembrance Week continued to evolve in the 1990s. The Holocaust Awareness Committee was formally organized in 1991, affiliated with the Office of Spiritual Life and including Northeastern students, faculty, and staff of various religious and ethnic backgrounds. In 1993, Bill Giessen, a professor of Chemistry at Northeastern who had grown up and was educated in Germany during and following the Nazi period, created the Robert Salomon Morton Lecture Series, which brings a prominent speaker to campus each year to lecture on the Holocaust or genocide. In 1997, Giessen also established the Gideon Klein Award; honoring the memory of Gideon Klein, a brilliant pianist and composer who was imprisoned in Terezin and other concentration camps until his death in 1945, the award enables a student to explore the Holocaust and the arts. The Gideon Klein Scholar presents his or her work at the annual Holocaust Commemoration sponsored by the President’s office. In 1998, the annual survivor talk (the founding event of Holocaust Remembrance Week) was in honor of longtime professor of European history Phil Backstrom, who had been instrumental in the establishment of the Holocaust Awareness Committee.


By 2000, Holocaust Awareness Week had developed a consistent pattern of yearly programming, with a breakfast hosted by the President, the Robert Salomon Morton Lecture, a film, and the Philip N. Backstrom, Jr. Annual Holocaust Survivor Lecture Series. These programs are occasionally augmented by additional events, such as concerts and other performances, memorial services, and additional lectures. In 2012, the annual film series was named in honor of Bill Giessen. Around the same time, the Holocaust Awareness Committee was moved into the College of Social Sciences and Humanities. In the early 2010s, the Northeastern Law School took over hosting the annual memorial service on Yom HaShoah, in addition to sponsoring lectures of its own.

About the Collection

A selection of photographs and publicity materials, as well as all audio and video relating to Holocaust awareness at Northeastern, is available in the Northeastern University Digital Repository Service. The full archival collection, which includes correspondence, bylaws and constitution, meeting minutes, news clippings, brochures, posters, photographs, and flyers related to planning and advertising Holocaust Awareness Week activities, is available at the Northeastern University Archives and Special Collections.

[1] Phone interview with Gerald Herman, February 28, 2016.