According to German paper The Local, Goethe University in Frankfurt will be the first German university to host a professorship devoted purely to the study of the Holocaust. The news was announced last week by the Hessian Ministry for Science and Arts, who confirmed that funding had been secured to establish the position. Although a number of institutions in Germany have departments devoted to the study of the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, Goethe University’s permanent professorship in Holocaust research will be the first of its kind. The candidate, who will start in 2017, will also head Frankfurt’s Fritz-Bauer Institute, an organization devoted to documenting the history of the Holocaust, reported Haaretz.
According to German publication Deutsche Welle, the professorship will have “a specific focus on the repercussions that have followed the Holocaust through to the present day.” And Olaf Kaltenborn, a spokesperson for Goethe University, commented, “This is a milestone in German Holocaust research.”
Boris Rhein, the science minister of Hesse State in Germany, said that coming 70 years after the Holocaust, the professorship is “long overdue.” According to Deutsche Welle, he added people should not forget what happened in the “land of the perpetrators.” However, a press release from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, highlighted that a number of German Universities stress that the new professorship does not mean research into the Holocaust wasn’t already being carried out. For example, TU Berlin has a Center for Research on Antisemitism, and the Munich Institute for Contemporary History has a department exclusively devoted to the Holocaust. The statement also points out that many German professors are known, although not exclusively, for their research on Holocaust-related topics.
Still, Goethe University in Frankfurt is also seen as an ideal location to house the new academic chair because of the history of the institution. In a statement, Goethe University Vice President and Professor Manfred Schubert-Zsilavecz said that he university was opened in 1914 as a citizen’s foundation by a predominantly Jewish group of founders. The Times (UK) also reported that one of the university’s current buildings was previously utilized by the Third Reich to manufacture Zycklon B, the pesticide used in the Auschwitz gas chambers. (The university took hold of the buildings in 1998 and re-opened after renovations in 2001.)
Schubert-Zsilavecz applauded the decision of the new professorship as an important step forward in German academia. “It gives us the important impetus to better understand discrimination and oppression in the world by looking at the structure of the domination of Nazi control during the war,” he said.
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