Timothy Snyder presents the first lecture of this year’s Elie Wiesel Memorial Lecture Series

Photo Credit: Marcin Czerniawski / Unspalsh

By Jazmine Ramos

Boston University News Service

Timothy Snyder presented the first lecture in the Elie Wiesel memorial lecture series Oct. 26 as a part of Boston University’s new holocaust, genocide and human rights major and interdisciplinary program. 

In the kick-off lecture presented in the Questrom School of Business auditorium, Snyder focused on the current war in Ukraine to the definition of genocide. 

Snyder is a history professor at Yale University and the author of “Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning.” Snyder earned his doctorate at Oxford University and has published a variety of other best-selling works. 

Nancy Harrowitz, professor of Italian and Jewish studies at BU and director of the Elie Wiesel Center for Jewish Studies welcomed Snyder at the beginning of the lecture. The theme of this year’s Elie Wiesel lecture series was “Co-witnessing and Social Justice: Our responses to humanitarian crises.” 

“The subject of genocide is an uncomfortable one, and yet we need to confront it,” said Harrowitz while describing BU’s new major. “Trying to understand how atrocities of this magnitude can happen, as well as genocide prevention are crucially important studies for all those who care about a just society.”

Harrowitz explained that the new interdisciplinary program was founded on ideas that comparative studies on genocide and human rights are necessary for being studied together. 

Snyder began his lecture with this list of definite, bleak statements.

“We will kill one million. We will kill five million. We will obliterate them all. We will drive the children into the raging river,” Snyder said. We will throw the children into burning huts. They should not exist at all. We should execute them by firing squad.”

The lecture hall was completely silent. 

Snyder drew his arguments from Ukrainian journalists and the work of other Ukrainians and historians, he said. He used this collection to craft a thesis on the legal term of genocide and that genocide is a test of humanity and its obligations. 

The study of genocide is the search for patterns and details that help reveal things that may not be observed in everyday life, Snyder said. Further, he argued that the current experience of Ukrainians is genocide. He pulled from history to define what genocide means and used examples of sexual assault under the lens of genocide. 

“Genocide is about intention,” said Snyder. “The problem is not about the lack of intent. It’s about the superabundance of evidence.” He listed nine examples of how historians would go about evaluating intention as the foundation for his analysis. 

Snyder ended his lecture with the reiteration that history is a search for patterns. 

“Like the Holocaust, the category of genocide can offer us a way out,” said Snyder. “All that remains now is what we do next.” 

Before taking questions from the audience, Snyder took a moment of silence before stating once again the first series of dark statements he made when he first entered the room. 

The next lecture in the Elie Wiesel series will be on Nov. 9 by Irene Kacandes from Dartmouth College who will talk about social justice and co-witnessing. 

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