By Alexis Herr
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum created a specific branch in 1995, just two years after the museum opened its doors, to “alert the national conscience, influence policy makers, and stimulate worldwide action to confront and work to halt acts of genocide or related crimes against humanity.” Named the Committee on Conscience (CoC), the CoC has become a leader in genocide education, memory, and prevention. The CoC announced a few months ago that although it will remain a standing committee member of the governing body of United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the CoC’s center at the Museum would now be called the Center for the Prevention of Genocide (CPG). Although the organization changed the name of its official body working at the Museum, its commanding leadership in the field of human rights remains unaltered. Indeed, according to a statement issued by Mike Abramowitz, the Director of the CPG, the new name indicates a strong commitment to preventing atrocity.
The decision to create and house the Committee of Conscience at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum nearly twenty years ago signified the Museum’s dedication to upholding Holocaust memory and combating genocide and crimes against humanity. Early on, the Museum received criticism for the decision to house a center for genocide prevention at a Holocaust museum. Such critics complained that the Holocaust was unique and as such should be held to a different standard than other atrocities. Thankfully, the Museum and CoC forged ahead.
The CoC has taught us that cases of genocides have far more in common than previously thought and much can be learned from studying these congruences. Scrutinizing the patterns and conditions present in pre-genocidal societies has helped the CoC, for example, raise the alarm when present day communities exhibit similar precedents. Currently, the CPG has a new report listed on their website entitled “Potential for Genocidal Violence in Syria” that exemplifies the importance of such scholarship.
The new name of the CoC’s acting body at the Museum seemingly acknowledges the progress that Holocaust scholarship and genocide prevention has made in the past two decades. Twenty years ago the CoC’s name indicated the moral responsibility to prevent genocide. The word “Conscience” was used to explain the importance of and reason for the organization’s work. Its new title, Center for the Prevention of Genocide, acknowledges that it no longer needs to explain the worth of its activities. Instead, the name is a self-evident reflection of a longstanding commitment to confront and prevent genocide.