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Course explores history of anti-Semitism

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In the three years since the Canadian Institute for the Study of Anti-Semitism (CISA) was founded in Winnipeg, Catherine Chatterley has been busy. As the institute's founding director, she has developed extensive educational programming locally and in Toronto, and spoken on behalf of the institute as far away as Warsaw, Poland.

She also has helped to organize a lecture series that brings internationally acclaimed historians to Winnipeg to speak. Daniel J. Goldhagen, author of the non-fiction titles, Hitler's Willing Executioners and Worse than War, will be the featured speaker in this series next spring.

This fall, Chatterley also began teaching a CISA-sponsored community course on the history of anti-Semitism. The course is based on a popular one she teaches at the University of Manitoba, where she is an adjunct professor in the department of history.

"CISA's new community course is designed to meet the specific needs of people who have a desire to learn about the history of anti-Semitism without having to enrol in a university program," Chatterley explains.

She created the course partly in response to inquiries she had from Jewish community members, as well as from the parents of her students -- most of whom are not Jewish -- to sit in on her university lectures.

Introduction to the history of anti-Semitism is a nine-week course that provides a comprehensive review of the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, known as the world's oldest hatred. The course, which began in September, uses lectures, film and discussion to explore anti-Semitism in western history. Each class is devoted to a specific topic. These include the historical and theological origins of anti-Semitism, the development of anti-Semitism in the Middle Ages and the role of anti-Semitism in Hitler's ideology.

"My students are always shocked to learn how little Adolf Hitler actually invented in his war against the Jews of Europe," Chatterley says. "With the exception of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there is a historical precedent for every single policy and action he took against the Jewish people, each recycled from canon law and European history."

For more than 10 centuries, Chatterley adds, an enormous amount of physical and rhetorical violence has been perpetrated upon the Jewish people by their European neighbours.

This, she recognizes, is disturbing information for many people to digest.

"The material is very difficult to study and one must approach it with a certain detachment, which can be a challenge," Chatterley says.

Yet, the fact the subject matter is so upsetting is the very reason it should be widely studied.

"The goal of any history class is to understand the past and its effects on the present, whether the class is in a university or in a public setting," Chatterley says.

Anti-Semitism may be an ancient hatred, but it is still prevalent in contemporary society. More than 1,300 anti-Semitic incidents were reported in Canada in 2012, according to B'nai Brith Canada. In Manitoba, there were 56 incidents.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 12, 2013 D15

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