While earning a B.A. in History with Honors from the University of Pennsylvania, Jan Cohen spent a year studying European and German history at the University of Vienna in Austria. It was during this time that she developed her interest in the Holocaust and its impact throughout Europe and the world. Since then, she has promoted understanding of the Holocaust and the related issues of genocide, tolerance and diversity through education, research and action.
In partnership with the Cohen Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Keene State College and composer Dr. Lawrence Siegel, she served as Executive Producer for Kaddish, a musical oratorio reflecting on the Holocaust, which premiered in 2008 and has gone on to be performed in Minneapolis, Houston, Florida, Jerusalem, and at various colleges and universities. She worked to develop a companion study guide and school curriculum to be used as a complement to students’ attendance at Kaddish performances.
Ms. Cohen served on a committee that successfully introduced Holocaust and genocide education into New Hampshire’s school curriculum, and in 2006, New Hampshire Governor John Lynch bestowed a commendation for her service and commitment to the students of New Hampshire through her advocacy of Holocaust and genocide education. Keene State College recognized Ms. Cohen with the 2008 President’s Outstanding Women of New Hampshire Award based on her service and leadership, especially in the areas of Holocaust education and women’s equality.
Speaking of her commitment to human rights education, Ms. Cohen said:
Children should be taught from the beginning that every life has value and that marginalizing a group or individual or standing by will not be tolerated – and that there are consequences for defying this tenet. Bullying or teasing should not be allowed to take hold in a school, group or family setting. Positive reinforcement of these most basic human principles should be modeled in homes, schools, businesses, the media, politics, government, sports etc., so that it becomes the norm and expected behavior. How to do this internationally is a challenge because we certainly haven’t successfully done it domestically. But we must continue to try. As the late Tom Lantos, the only Holocaust survivor ever elected to the United States Congress, famously said, “we MUST be our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers!”
Ms. Cohen and her husband were recognized in 2011 by Yad Vashem, Israel’s memorial to the Holocaust, for their dedication to Holocaust education. Ms. Cohen delivered the Commencement Address at Keene State College in 2012 and received an honorary doctorate that year. She has served on numerous boards and committees of civic, religious and academic institutions throughout the Monadnock region in New Hampshire and is currently employed as grandmother.