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International Holocaust Remembrance Day


Observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day

Recap - Holocaust Remembrance – Memorial

January 26, 2024

Leo UllmanOn January 27, 1945, the Soviet Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp. In 2005, the United Nations established International Holocaust Remembrance Day to honor this day and remember the six million Jews and millions of other people who perished at the hands of the Nazi regime and its allies. The theme for this year’s United Nations’ outreach program on the Holocaust is “Recognizing the Extraordinary Courage of Victims and Survivors of the Holocaust.”

Last Friday’s virtual program in observance of International Holocaust Remembrance Day opened with a moving introduction by Dr. Elke Sabella, the director of the Kingsborough Holocaust Center, paying tribute to the victims who lost their lives in the most brutal ways. She called upon attendees to never forget the costs associated with the normalization of antisemitism, bigotry, and prejudice.

Sabella also discussed the work she does at the Holocaust Center to combat contemporary antisemitism and shared some of her experiences teaching the history of the Holocaust at Kingsborough: “While many non-Jewish students are interested in this course, they initially feel this history doesn’t pertain to them. It has always been my goal to make sure that, at the end of the course, all my students feel that this history concerns and involves them. I do so by emphasizing all victims of Nazi persecution and murder,” said Sabella. “After all, while many students do not know a Jewish individual and aren’t familiar with Jewish history, they often do know persons with disabilities, a person of color, a Jehovah’s Witness, or a member of the LGBTQ+ community. Discussing the ‘other victims’ helps students understand what happened in Nazi-occupied Europe and, more specifically, what happened to Jewish people.”

Rabbi Heidi Hoover of the Beth Shalom v'Emeth Reform Temple in Brooklyn shared words of wisdom and song while also paraphrasing Elie Wiesel’s thoughts on silence: If someone suffers and he keeps silent, it can be a good silence. If someone suffers and I keep silent, it can be a destructive silence. In essence, Hoover emphasized the need for everyone to speak up for protection and truth.

Father Mike Tedone, campus minister and advisor to Kingsborough’s Newman Catholic Club, spoke of the many who died in concentration camps and stressed the importance of realizing that an attack on one person is an attack on all people.

After prayers led by Rabbi Hoover and Father Tedone, the 30-plus attendees—among them Holocaust survivors, children of survivors, and grandchildren of survivors—were invited to share personal stories and consider ways to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. One suggestion was to always ask questions and not remain silent when witnessing an atrocity or hearing information that inaccurately depicts historical facts.

The thread that ran through everyone’s story was the importance of keeping the story and atrocities of the Holocaust alive, noting that education is the answer. A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto noted that aside from informing students about the sheer scale of destruction, loss of life, and the displacement of millions of people, we must also tell stories of resistance, both armed and spiritual. She indicated that the latter remains undervalued and understudied and said: “Those who had something shared with those who had nothing. We need poetry more than we need bread; the soul has to be nourished. We had secret schools and hidden books. My father had a stash of books by Yiddish authors. To own a book was an act of defiance.”

Helen-Margaret Nasser, director of the Student Union and Intercultural Center (SU&IC), closed the program with a recitation of the poem “First They Came,” by Pastor Martin Niemöller, a reminder not to wait until oppression impacts us personally and to recognize the responsibility of our shared humanity. Nasser also emphasized the significance of the SU&IC's interfaith work, which fosters dialogue and understanding.



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