The Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith Center Receives Claims Conference Grant

by, Alexa Schmidt & Colleen E. McNamara, Senior Writer & Asst. Sports Editor

The Holocaust, Genocide and Interfaith (HGI) Education Center, located on the top floor of O’Malley Library, has received a grant from the Claims Conference, or The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.

The Claims Conference, established in 1951, seeks to secure compensation and restitution for survivors of the Holocaust. Their grant will help the HGI Center digitize and create an online exhibit of documents from the lives of Herman Ziering, a Holocaust survivor and justice seeker, and his wife, Lea Ziering.

The Herman and Lea Ziering Archive Collection will raise awareness on campus and seek justice for survivors of events of extreme and violence. Their exhibit will focus on circumstances of violence and prejudice around the world, in hopes to provide a comprehensive understanding of this history to students and educators.

“The Archive’s purpose is to raise public awareness of those who, having survived and/or witnessed genocidal events of mass murder, dedicate themselves to seeking justice for victims and preventing the repetition of such acts, and to promote scholarly research on the psychological, sociological, and historical correlates of this mode of responding to such events,” Manhattan’s HGI Center website stated.

Manhattan College is the third Catholic college in the nation to have a Holocaust exhibit, which is something that serves as an important addition in keeping students educated. Mehnaz M. Afridi, Ph.D., is the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center where this exhibit is located at Manhattan and was a major factor in putting together and receiving the grant.

“I’m really, really proud of writing and receiving the grant, but beyond that, it also puts our name out there in a very important way, like in an interfaith way to show that we care about Jews, we care about Muslims, and what that means in the world is pretty dynamic,” Afridi said.

The grant also helps break stereotypes and works together well with Manhattan’s Lasallian mission of social justice.

“It’s kind of the reason I’m doing this is because I think it breaks the stereotypes of survivors or we see them as victims. And, you know, but here you have somebody who is courageous, who is seeking justice. And part of our school talks about social justice. And I think it’s so important for our students to see that,” Afridi said.

Ireland Twiggs, a senior peace and justice major, works for the HGI Center and is thrilled the center’s work will be furthered. It allows students and educators on Manhattan’s campus and beyond to educate themselves.

“This grant will be a chance to expand and continue to create a space that tells the stories of so many offering more resources to implement ways on broadening the message of the center. It will be a way to lift any restrictions and really get creative with the ways in which we can tell stories and raise awareness,” Twiggs said.

The grant application process is extensive, and can be a long process. It requires recommendations, a budget, and the applicant must have a specific vision and mission of what they want to accomplish. Dr. Afridi applied during her sabbatical last year, and received the grant on her first try.

“When we got the grant it was such exciting news during COVID, you know, when people are losing money and there are all these issues, then you have this kind of good news, that there are people wanting to do things,” Afridi said.

The availability of the online exhibit extends free education to everyone, including scholars and students around the world. To make up for that fact that those observing the online exhibit will not be able to see artifacts in person, there will be detailed images and close ups of items.

“So someone could be sitting in like Africa and looking at our archive and doing work on, say, Nazi hunting or the Riga Ghetto. So that is a digital digitization process, conserve and preserve,” Afridi said.

People will also be able to conduct deep research and look into different files that contain various stories and accounts.

“The pandemic has really shown how critical connection and storytelling is, and by having a virtual exhibit we are able to break through a lot of limitations on sharing the amazing work of the center and the voices it is amplifying in our community,” Twiggs said. “It is a way to still have a connection to MC and the exhibit, even if we can’t gather together, whether that is due to the pandemic or geographical restrictions.”

In addition to the artifacts, the exhibit will incorporate a wide variety of resources, such as recordings, to demonstrate a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. Specifically, there will be a couple of actual recordings by Herman Ziering on tapes, and they will be edited so that students can access their voices.

Afridi also plans to expand this exhibit to incorporate both national and international work.

“I started to do it by housing archives, building this exhibit and now showcasing it to people who are interested in coming and actually doing scholarly work with us so that we would build a scholarship program for 10, 12 scholars to come and work at Manhattan, maybe in the summers, even online, and kind of produce something from this archive. We can materially show the world some kind of scholarship, something new and different,” Afridi said.

Afridi’s work represents an effort to educate students around the world on the impact of prejudice through the horrifying violence and degradation that resulted in millions of Jewish, African American, Bosnian, Rwandan and Chinese deaths.

“I want students to take away the message of this archive to be, look at what prejudice does. Any kind of prejudice against people, Jews, women, whatever it might be leads to genocide. I think if students could just understand I need to learn about culture and not reject it, I think we can do much better as a community,” Afridi said.