Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism have become two sides of the same coin. How shall we react? Deborah Lipstadt, who famously succeeded in her case against Holocaust denier David Irving, set the tone by stating “We can do what we do best, we can educate.”
In this effort we have friends. No one deserves greater hakarat hatov than Atlantic City native Dr. Vera King Farris, who served as president of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey from 1983 to 2003.
Dr. Farris was the first African American president of a public college in New Jersey and is the recipient of seven honorary doctorates in addition to numerous awards and titles. She was named New Jersey’s Woman of the Year in 1992.
When Dr. Farris was approached by non-Jewish financial backers about establishing an endowed chair of studies at Stockton College, the subject she chose was Holocaust Studies. This led to the creation of the Ida E. King Chair of Holocaust Studies in 1990.
Ida King was Dr. Farris’s mother. Legally blind, she worked as a domestic. She and her 13 children lived in Atlantic City. They were a poor a family, always struggling to make ends meet.
One day while she was a senior at Atlantic City High School, 15-year-old Vera King (she’d skipped grades because of her exceptional academic achievements) was sent to the library during study hall. Being an excellent student and having finished all her homework, she decided to read a book about World War II. She was shocked to see pictures of concentration camps and the Jewish victims. That evening she shared what she saw with her mother.
Today, Dr. Vera King Farris says this was one of the few times she saw her mother cry.
Her mother also assured her that one day she would be successful but that she should never forget the lessons and legacies of the Holocaust. That is why the Holocaust Studies chair was established in memory of Ida King.
At the initiative of Dr. Farris, world-class scholars have come to Stockton College. The first occupant of the chair was acclaimed Holocaust Studies pioneer Dr. Franklin Littell, who returned to Stockton again and again. (How very special it is that non-Jews provided the spark that ignited a major source of education about our great tragedy.)
Distinguished visiting professors who’ve come to Stockton read like a Who’s Who of the world’s leading Holocaust scholars. Drs. Yehuda Bauer, Mordecai Paldiel, Michael Berenbaum, Hubert Locke, Daniel Bar-On, Carol Rittner, Henry Huttenbach and Michael Phayer are among the many who have occupied this distinguished position.
In 1998, the nation’s first Master’s program in Holocaust and Genocide Studies was launched at Stockton. Holocaust Studies are mandated in New Jersey’s public schools; the program at Stockton has provided educators and others the opportunity to pursue Holocaust studies on a more advanced level.
Back in May 1987 Dr. Farris already had established the Holocaust Resource Center at Stockton. From the beginning it was a joint project of the college and the Jewish Federation of Atlantic and Cape May Counties. Today the center houses more than 1,300 books, 78 oral history tapes of local Holocaust survivors and hundreds of lesson plans for grades kindergarten through high school.
The following is the mission statement of the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey Holocaust Resource Center, written under the guidance of Dr. Farris:
To commemorate the Holocaust and develop sensitivity and understanding by combating anti-Semitism, racism, hatred, and oppression.
To memorialize the victims of the Holocaust and pay tribute to the survivors, liberators, and eyewitnesses.
To focus on the study of the Holocaust by fostering academic research and by serving as a repository for Holocaust materials including oral histories.
To participate in educating future generations by sponsoring awareness programs and exhibits, by providing workshops and seminars to train those teaching the Holocaust, and by making available printed and audio-visual material to students, educators, and scholars.
To promote greater awareness of the Holocaust through special activities such as symposia and lectures.
In fulfillment of its mission, Stockton’s Holocaust Resource Center has reached out to more than 18,000 students, educators and community members. In 2006, more than 100 schools participated in the center’s activities, training sessions, seminars and workshops.