SCC professor honored with genocide awareness award

John Liffiton has made a living promoting genocide awareness, and his efforts have now been recognized


Dahlia Oktasiani/Scottsdale Chronicle

SCC professor John Liffiton stands in front of the Hélène Berr exhibit in the school’s Student Center. The exhibit is part of the school’s upcoming Genocide Conference for Genocide Awareness Week.

Jeremy Beren, Editor-in-Chief

The Holocaust is a difficult, uncomfortable subject to broach, but SCC professor John Liffiton has approached it head on. Now, the Phoenix Holocaust Survivors Association has taken notice of his efforts.

In an award ceremony on April 19, Liffiton will receive the PHSA’s prestigious Shofar Zachor award. “Shofar Zachor” is Hebrew for “call of remembrance,” and it is given to an educator who has put in great effort to raise awareness of the Holocaust through study or presentation.

Liffiton will be the second Maricopa County Community College District professor to win the award after Glendale Community College’s Ruth Callahan won in 2013.

“It’s a phenomenal award,” Liffiton said. “I feel like I’ve won an Oscar.”

Liffiton has taught at SCC for 15 years. In that time, he has served as an English professor and as the Director of the Genocide Conference.

“John symbolizes exactly what we want from SCC faculty,” Daniel Corr said.

He went on to say Liffiton is an example for all faculty through his efforts to shine light on the Holocaust and genocide in general.

“He’s a remarkable instructor and a tremendous ambassador,” he explained.

Liffiton’s dedication to history began at an early age. Born into a military family, he traveled as a child and continued to do so as an adult.

“My father had a particular bent  for history,” he said. “So, on our vacations, we didn’t go to Disneyland. We’d go to Gettysburg.”

Liffiton eventually found his own fascination in history after he lived in places such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Saudi Arabia.

However, it was a trip to the Czech Republic via Macedonia that inspired Liffiton to further pursue his curiosity as it pertained to the Holocaust.

“I was in Macedonia for a program with the American Association of Community Colleges,” he said. “I came back via Prague, and I saw an advertisement for Terezín.”

Terezín was a concentration camp run by the Nazis in what is now the Czech Republic. Liffiton took the Terezín tour, and the experience profoundly moved him—starting with the archway phrase “arbeit macht frei,” which translates to “work will make you free.”

The experience inspired Liffiton to bring public awareness to the atrocity of genocide. It was then that the idea for the Genocide Conference was born. After conversations with Corr and SCC president Jan Gehler, the first Genocide Conference for Genocide Awareness Week at SCC was held in 2013.

Liffiton expects this year’s events between April 13 and April 18 to draw more than 2,000 people. The day after the latest Genocide Conference ends, Liffiton will receive the Shofar Zachor.

“I’m not working towards anything,” he said. “This is my job, and I believe in it. I believe that people should know about genocides and the Holocaust.”