Peace Studies


Debórah Dwork, Ph.D.

Rose Professor of Holocaust History
Director, Strassler Family Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies
Department of History
Clark University
Worcester, MA 01610-1477

Phone: (508) 793-8897

Professional Website

Debórah Dwork is the Rose Professor of Holocaust History and the Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University. Her now classic Children With A Star gave voice to the silenced children of the Holocaust; it was the first history of the daily lives of young people caught in the net of Nazism. Children With A Star received international critical acclaim and was translated into German, Italian, Dutch and Japanese. It was the subject of a documentary, also called "Children With A Star," by the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

Auschwitz, co-authored with Robert Jan van Pelt, established the context in which historians now view that annihilation camp. Dwork and van Pelt argued that Germany sought to reconstruct Central Europe in its own image, and the Germans' program at Auschwitz was key to that ambition. They drew the critically important connection between industrial killing and the daily functions of a society that believed it was involved in constructive activity. The BBC and PBS recognized Auschwitz as a remarkable project, and produced the Horizon/Nova television documentary "Blueprints of Genocide" (BBC) / "Nazi Designers of Death" (PBS) based upon it. Auschwitz also provided the core of a seven-part series "Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State," which was aired in January 2005 in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the camp. Auschwitz received the National Jewish Book Award and the Spiro Kostof Award, given every other year to the best book on the physical environment. It has been translated into German, Dutch, Czech and Polish, to much critical acclaim.

Thinking about the significance of Auschwitz in the context of the whole of the Holocaust prompted Dwork and van Pelt to widen the lens, to try to understand the place of the Holocaust in the history of the western world. This research yielded Holocaust: A History, which spans the long and broad history in which the Holocaust was rooted, from the middle ages to the middle of the twentieth century, and across the continent of Europe. Holocaust explores how different occupation regimes shaped the local populations" ability to respond to the genocide enacted outside their windows, and it negotiates the chasm between two histories: that of the perpetrators and that of the victims; the Nazis' push towards a "Final Solution," and the Jews' reactions and responses. Translated into Spanish and Portuguese as well as Dutch, Holocaust is helping to shape the study of the Holocaust in South America and the Iberian Peninsula.

In the course of writing Holocaust, Dwork and van Pelt investigated the failure of the allies to respond to the refugee crisis triggered by Nazi persecution. They thus became interested in the concept of asylum and the dilemmas of democratic governments when faced with the prospect of mass expulsions of Jews from Central European countries. Should they offer refuge to these people, and thus, indirectly, condone these expulsions?

The prospect of another book opened. Flight From the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946 examines the ever dwindling choices open to asylum seekers, and the often painful decisions of the many people who dealt with them—consuls; immigration officers and other government officials; church, health, and social workers; volunteers; private individuals. Government policy and individual practice, and international action and local initiatives loomed large in this chapter of Holocaust history.

Published by W.W. Norton in 2009, Flight From the Reich: Refugee Jews, 1933-1946 encompasses all the occupied and host countries and includes all manner of participants. Dwork and van Pelt integrate the history of events with the history of people, moving back and forth between the private and the public realms, between personal memory and official history. Public events would be of no significance if they did not affect the individual lives of people, and people's lives would not have been so sharply and violently shaped as they were had it not been for the sharp and violent events of the public realm. Flight From the Reich is a story with which the authors have personal connection: both are related by friendship and kinship to many people who left Nazi Europe as refugees, and to a few who had the opportunity to flee, chose to remain, and survived. Flight was a ForeWord Reviews Book of the Year Finalist. Now translated into Dutch and French, Fuir le Reich (as the latter is titled) was chosen as a Grand Livre du Mois selection.

Dwork turned her attention to the transit camp the Czechs called Terezín and the Germans Theresienstadt in two publications. The Terezín Album of Marianka Zadików (University of Chicago Press, 2008), is an annotated, edited, facsimile edition, with a historical introduction. Marianka Zadików, a young inmate, collected entries by well-known and illustrious people from many walks of life (artists, musicians, religious leaders) as well as young children whose promise would never be actualized. In her annotations and introduction, Dwork explores the meaning and significance of creative work to the inmates of Theresienstadt. A Boy in Terezín: The Private Diary of Pavel Weiner, April 1944-April 1945 (Northwestern University Press, 2011), with introduction and extensive annotations by Dwork, follows this young inmate's life through his bar mitzvah year. Closely written in tiny script, Pavel's diary provides a youngster's view of significant events in the history of the camp. Equally important, his narrative traces his daily life and lays achingly bare his maturation in the midst of a Nazi camp.

As founding Director of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, Professor Dwork has given shape to an exciting forum for education and scholarship about the Holocaust, the Armenian Genocide, and other genocides around the world. Dedicated to teaching, research, and public service, the Center trains the Holocaust historians and genocide studies scholars of the future—the next cadre of scholars, teachers, Holocaust museum directors and curators, and non-government organization and government agency experts about genocide and genocidal situations. The mission of the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies reaches beyond the boundaries of the university: to educate professionals of many fields about genocide and the Holocaust, to provide a lecture series free of charge and open to the public, to use scholarship to address current problems stemming from the murderous past, and to engage the world by providing an educated voice in the public arena.

Debórah Dwork has received many academic awards and honors. She has been, inter alia, a Guggenheim Fellow, a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and a Fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies. Dwork currently serves on the American delegation to the International Task Force on Holocaust Education, Remembrance, and Research. Still: she remains a staunch educator. In addition to university lecturing, she is a guest teacher throughout the United States in schools and at teacher workshops to further the Holocaust education of those who were not trained in this period of history, and want to learn now. Indeed, her book Voices and Views: A History of the Holocaust, an edited, annotated, and illustrated collection, with introductions, is a scholarly project undertaken for public service. It serves as the cornerstone text for the national Holocaust education program of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, as well as for a number of local teacher education programs throughout the country and high school and college courses on Holocaust history.

Debórah Dwork lectures extensively at academic conferences as well as to philanthropic organizations and the general public, and is as likely to be seen at a community center as at a professional meeting.