Participants reflected on what the Holocaust has meant to society, and the lingering impact it has left, at an event in the Campus Center Reading Room last night to commemorate Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event was sponsored by the Jewish Student Union and UMass Hillel and featured several speakers.
The first speaker was Mordi Kamel, the son of two Holocaust survivors. He related the stories of his parent’s experiences,which both illustrated different facets of the tragedy. His mother spent the duration of the Holocaust in hiding after a German officer warned her Polish village that the Schutzstaffel (SS) were coming to her village to liquidate the Jewish population. She then spent two years in hiding with a Catholic Polish family. When she returned to her village at the end of the war, many Jews were deported to displaced persons camps.
Kamel’s father served in the Polish army until he was drafted by the Soviet army. After an injury, he became a quartermaster and used his access to luxuries such as vodka to leverage power. With his influence, he organized missions to protect Jews and execute Nazi collaborators in Poland. Kamel’s father justified this to his son by stating, “If we didn’t kill these people, no one would have done anything to them.”
Kamel emphasized during his speech the importance of action in the face of atrocities. He touched on the genocides currently occurring in Darfur, the Eastern Congo and Rwanda.
He ended on the note that, “In a violent world, hope is meaningless, only action counts.”
The second speaker was Ben Golden, a photojournalist from Chicago. In August of 1999, he traveled to the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau photograph the emotional location. He mentioned that in 1945 he saw photos of the camp only in American media publications, but later in life found the need to understand the tragedy deeper.
Golden went through a slideshow of photos that he took of the Jewish neighborhood of Krakow, Poland, Kazimierz, the town surrounding Auschwitz, Oswiecim and the concentration camp of Birkenau. He discussed his experience of touring the camps. He stated that there is a need to remember conflicts with actual historic facts and that when someone actually arrives at Birkenau, and that the reality of the Holocaust is overwhelming.
Following the speakers, Josh Lutch, the leader of STAND, a student group against genocide, spoke about the need to raise awareness and resources about the current conflicts in Burma, the Eastern Congo and Darfur.
The event finished with a candle lighting ceremony to commemorate the Holocaust and a reading of the traditional Jewish prayer, the Mourner’s Kaddish.
Noah Hershey, the president of the Jewish Student Union stated about the importance of the event and acting against genocide.
“It is not incumbent upon you to finish the job but neither can you desist from it, in this spirit, we are happy that people fathered here today,” he said.
Mike Fox can be reached at email@example.com.