Fall 2011

"To do away with evil from thy midst"
The Holocaust and Genocide as Wrought by Human Beings
The 12th and final book in the Open University's Genocide series


The Open University's Genocide course teaches more than the cold facts about genocides, mass extermination, mass murders, holocausts, the Holocaust and indescribable evil. With the twelfth and final book in the series, students learn to probe themselves, and what they discover can be unsettling.

There is an inchoate question that lies at the heart of the human race, which in its crudest form, gives expression to a multitude of awe-inspiring, perplexing thoughts and feelings. For most, this rudimentary question lies just beneath the surface, yet the answer eludes us, or, perhaps is simply too frightening to bear:

"How can human beings be so destructive, so disgusting towards their fellow human beings."

Scratch the surface, just a bit, and you will quickly see that at the very heart of this question is really the following question: "Can I be so destructive or disgusting towards my fellow man?"

The answers, according to Prof. Yair Auron of the University's Department of Sociology, Political Science and Communications, and Prof. Israel Charny, author of the final book in the Genocide series are not elusive, rather they are difficult for most 'decent' people to grasp.

The first eleven books in the series deal primarily with specific cases of genocides throughout history. This twelfth book deals with the human psyche, and in so doing, is perhaps the most frightening.

In his introduction to the series, Prof. Auron describes the Holocaust as "the most severe blow to human rights, the most extreme display of indifference to human suffering, and perhaps the greatest moral breakdown ever known to humanity."

But for Prof. Israel Charny, formerly Professor of Psychology of Family Therapy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University, current Chairman of the Institute of the Holocaust and Genocide and Mass Murder, and credited as a prime mover in the development of the field of Genocide studies, the answers are far more pointed, far closer to home, far more specific to who we are as human beings:

"My book demands that we look at ourselves before there is a holocaust-genocide scenario. My book demands that we examine the components in the human psychology, which may lead many of us to be participants -- serving major or minor roles -- in the perpetration of a genocide."

Prof. Israel Charny and Prof. Yair Auron have been friends and colleagues for more than three decades. Their first encounter was over the Armenian genocide. Prof. Auron had come across some papers while researching Nili's activities in pre-State days, and with Prof. Charny's encouragement, took his first steps towards the study of genocide. No doubt, these were the preliminary steps to Prof. Auron's development of the curriculum for the Open University's unique course on "Genocide".

"In my opinion, it is simply a crime that only the Open University is teaching this course and that it is also an elective! This course must be obligatory in all universities regardless of what one is studying! This is an amazing course and I am exceedingly happy that I took it!"
E.A., student

Yes, there are universities throughout the world that do offer courses on the Holocaust and genocide, but in Israel, the Open University is the only fully accredited academic institution that offers such a comprehensive course.

When the first course was offered in 2006, 55 students registered. This year 1,340 students, from varying disciplines, have registered, with some 700 during the summer semester alone.

Each semester, Prof. Auron and his staff are deluged with e-mails, voice mails and personal visits from students who share their views on the course, "This course has given me a new insight into myself" or the course has helped "Open my eyes in a way that I never thought possible." While encouraging, there is still more work that needs to be done. The final book in the series should help pave the way for the next hurdle.

Making the Next Leap in Self-Discovery

Summer session students were the first to avail themselves of this final and newest book in the series, "To do away with evil from thy midst."

Prof. Charny's background and major interests are the underpinning for the book. A clinical psychologist, psychotherapist, and university lecturer on psychology and family therapy, half of his life has been in the classroom and clinic, and the other half has been devoted to being a genocide scholar.

The combination, while at first jarring, does thread powerfully together, enabling Prof. Charny to bring to bear profound insights and ideas on genocide, the human race, the Jewish people as a people among the nations, and the Jewish people within the State of Israel.

Some Facts About Genocide

  • More people die of genocide than any natural cause.

  • During Stalin's reign of terror in Russia, some 54 million people were killed.

  • In China, Mao Tse Tung was responsible for the death of 36 million people.

  • Every third Cambodian (some estimate every fifth) was murdered during the Khmer Rouge rule between the years 1975-1979.

  • The word "holocaust" existed long before World War II. It was used to describe the genocidal destruction of the Armenians and other peoples.

In actuality, it was a dream that Prof. Charney had, a real dream, that lead him on this lifelong pursuit to understand the human capacity for unadulterated evil.

"Five years after earning my PhD in psychology I took my certifying exam to become a specialist. A grueling exam, it took place over several days. When it was all over, I went to sleep and had a dream...and what was screaming in my head when I woke up was 'how could they do that to us.' What I realized was that I had learned zero about the human capacity for violence, cruelty and evil and also realized that I had something to study as a psychologist, as a Jew, and as a human being for the rest of my life."

His 40-year plus journey has been most revealing, and a good deal of the information he has culled throughout the years, can be found in this 200-page book. Even the title itself is revealing -- taken from the Book of Deuteronomy (13:6) -- the Jewish people are warned about abandoning the tenets of the Lord, for the further afield they travel from the Bible, the closer they approach their own destruction.

This is one of Charny's key points. It's not the group mentality, the culture, society, government, religious or military institutions that lead to genocide. It's the psychological infrastructure of the individual.

The fact that the Open University is offering such a course, according to Prof. Charny is "simply stunning." While the series is taught in Hebrew (only the first book has been translated into English, and the second is currently being translated), "these books are an enormous contribution in any language. Nobody has put together such a series before. It is a major intellectual and spiritual achievement collectively for the Open University and individually for Prof. Yair Auron."