“To forget a Holocaust is to kill twice” — Elie Wiesel
One of the speakers at Wednesday night’s Holocaust remembrance ceremony at Kansas University quoted the famous Holocaust survivor to convey a point: that if we lose sight of our history, we’re bound to repeat it.
That was the purpose of the event, in fact: to not allow the 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust to have died in vain, but to instead use their memory to prevent future atrocities.
Several speakers, including Lawrence and university dignitaries and relatives of Holocaust survivors, shared stories of the mass genocide in front of about 65 people at the Kansas Union’s Alderson Auditorium, with six of them lighting candles to represent the 6 million Jews killed in the tragedy. The candles were also lit, individually, for the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished; the gentiles who risked their lives to protect Jews; their liberators; the descendants of Holocaust survivors; those with no connection to the event; and the recognition of ongoing genocide. The Yom Hashoah ceremony was presented by KU Hillel and the Lawrence Jewish Community Congregation.
“Like the loss of a loved one, the forgetting can be as painful as the loss the itself,” Rabbi Neal Schuster said to open the event. “We come together to remember in order to never forget.”
Lawrence Mayor Bob Schumm said “it is often those whose work goes unseen that make up the lifeblood of a city.” He told the story of some gentiles in Europe who hid Jews in a sewer and fed, clothed and otherwise supported them. Those gentiles had “the courage to do what they knew was right in a moment of terrible darkness,” Schumm said.
Speaker Artie Shaw relayed the tale of Yisrael Meir Lau, who was 7 years old when American troops liberated his concentration camp. When Army chaplain Herschel Schachter asked him how old he was, he responded, “I’m older than you.”
“Because you’ll cry and laugh like a child. I haven’t laughed in a long time, and I don’t even cry anymore,” Lau said. “So which of us is older?”
Lau, now the chief rabbi of Tel Aviv, told President Obama during his visit to Israel last month to tell the American people that he and his fellow survivors went “not from slavery to freedom but from death to life.” Last month, Schachter, a prominent New York rabbi, died at the age of 95.
One of those liberators’ granddaughters, Stephanie Glassberg also spoke Wednesday. She said her grandfather’s life was transformed by the moment when upon rescuing concentration-camp survivors, one of the “sickest of them all” dragged her near-lifeless body up to him, grabbed his hand and kissed it. “The power of that little kiss stuck with him his entire life,” Glassberg said of her grandpa.
Jeremy Gutovitz and Micah Levine said that even though their grandfather, Abe Gutovitz, was a Holocaust survivor, he lived every day with a smile on his face. They said he taught them that “life is a precious gift and must be treated as such.”
Speaker Ally Levine remarked that even though she had no direct connection to the Holocaust, she felt it was her duty to visit the sites in Europe where it happened. Afterward she told herself that “the Holocaust is now my story to tell.” As the remaining survivors pass on, she said, it will be up to people like her to keep their memories alive.
Mugabi Byenka, president of the KU African Students Association, spoke about his Rwandan heritage and how his mother was always ashamed to reveal hers. More than half a million Rwandans were slaughtered in a 1994 genocide sparked by ethnic tensions.
Unlike his mother, “I proudly held on to my Tutsi heritage,” he said, before lighting a candle for the 11 million people killed in genocides since the start of the Holocaust.
"If God is ever going to make peace on Earth, God is going to do it with our hands," Schuster said to close the event. "We have a lot of work to do, and we should get started.”