MELROSE PARK, Pa.—Dr. Irwin Cotler, international chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, has been named the first Isaacman Distinguished Visiting Professor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Gratz College.
A renowned international human rights attorney, Dr. Cotler is an emeritus professor of law at McGill University, a former Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada, and a longtime member of the Parliament of Canada. His post at Gratz will span the 2021-2022 academic year.
“I’m hoping to learn from the Gratz community and, in particular, the doctoral students in Holocaust and Genocide Studies,” Dr. Cotler said. “I know of no more important academic discipline than Holocaust and Genocide Studies in this moment in time. We need to ensure that ‘never again’ is not just a slogan, but a reality that underpins our international human rights work.”
Named after Dr. Daniel Isaacman, who served as president of Gratz College from 1973 until his death in 1982, the distinguished visiting professorship celebrates Gratz’s newly established Center for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights. The center combines three academic programs with overlapping missions: Holocaust and Genocide Studies, Human Rights, and Interfaith Leadership.
“Dr. Cotler’s expertise fits the mission of our new center extremely well,” said Dr. Ruth Sandberg, director of the Center for Holocaust Studies and Human Rights. “He’s an outstanding spokesman for awareness of the past, he shows immense concern for the present, and he’s working toward the future.”
During his professorship at Gratz, Dr. Cotler will deliver two public lectures about genocide, the Holocaust, and mass atrocity. He will also participate in Zoom meetings with doctoral students in the Holocaust and Genocide Studies program.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for students to engage with Dr. Cotler and ask him questions about his career,” said Dr. Paul Finkelman, president of Gratz College. “He is an international leader in human rights, and we are honored to have him as our inaugural Isaacman Distinguished Professor in Holocaust and Genocide Studies.”
As a human rights attorney, Dr. Cotler served as counsel to prisoners of conscience, including Nelson Mandela, Andrei Sakharov, and Natan Sharansky. He holds 14 honorary doctorates, as well as numerous human rights and ethical leadership awards.
“I’ve been fortunate to represent some of the more inspiration role models of our time,” Dr. Cotler said. “Each of these human rights heroes provides me with the energy and commitment to do in a modest way what they have done in such a heroic way. This appointment at Gratz offers me an opportunity to work in common cause with others to not only educate on these issues, but do something about them.”
As chairman of the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, in Montreal, Canada, Dr. Cotler oversees yearly commemorations of the five genocides recognized by the Canadian government: the Armenian Genocide, the Holodomor, the Shoah (Holocaust), the Rwandan Genocide, and the Bosnian Genocide. The center’s namesake is a constant reminder and testament to what one person can do.
Wallenberg is credited with saving thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust. He disappeared in January 1945.
“While a huge population of bystanders did nothing, Wallenberg mobilized,” Cotler said. “If I could teach students one thing, it would be that one person with the compassion to care and courage to act can transform history.”