Students remember Holocaust
Imagine having an event equal to the magnitude of September 11 occur every day for five and a half years.
Rachel Goykhman, a first-year BHA major and social vice president of the Hillel Jewish University Center, cites this example as the best way to comprehend how over six million Jews were exterminated in Nazi concentration camps during the Holocaust. Last week, Goykhman and other members of Hillel commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Week, which coincided with the 60th anniversary of the Allied liberation of concentration camps.
According to current Pittsburgh resident and Holocaust survivor Fritz Ottenheimer, ?liberation? wasn?t as idealistic as many contemporaries make it out to be.
?When we?re talking liberation, we?re talking the liberation of an extremely small portion of people who were condemned to this type of life during the war,? Ottenheimer said during a speech he gave last Tuesday. Ottenheimer?s speech was among the events that Hillel members planned to commemorate the event.
A German-born Jew, Ottenheimer left Germany for America at the beginning of World War II. Ottenheimer later returned to his native country in the mid-1940s as a member of the U.S. Army.
During his tour of duty, Ottenheimer and his troop came across a labor camp that once held roughly 300 foreigners that the Germans brought in to work. Ottenheimer notes that this situation was common toward the end of the war, as U.S. soldiers often found concentration camps while looking for the enemy.
However, when Ottenheimer?s troop came across the camp, they found that the Germans had already killed all of its prisoners.
Ottenheimer later showed a video of liberation and survivors that members of the Pittsburgh Holocaust Society had created.
For Adina Klein, a junior architecture and chemistry major and the education vice-president of Hillel, the images on the video were shocking. ?Piles of dead bodies were stacked on top of each other like animal carcasses,? said Klein.
Ottenheimer spoke about the piles of ashes he encountered at the camp, the incinerated bodies of former inmates. ?A pile of ashes is very impersonal. It?s sort of like a statistic,? he said. ?We hear the statistics of the Holocaust...and we tend not to think of the numbers in individual terms until we hear the fate of individual persons.?
To help individualize the victims, Hillel members read the names of Holocaust victims at the fence last Wednesday. The members chose to read the names of children, an undertaking that proved emotionally taxing, according to Goykhman.
For Goykhman and other members of Hillel, it?s important for people to realize the span of the Jewish population. ?When people think of a Jewish person, they think a white person. It?s important for people to understand that Judaism is something that reaches across all races and cultures. It?s a religion, and everyone can be part of that religion,? Goykhman said.
According to Goykhman, the Holocaust is significant because it represents hate ? not just hate for the Jewish community. ?It?s an important message that people give about the Holocaust ? never forget what people can do to each other through hate,? she said.
This year?s Holocaust Remembrance Week is significant for members of the CMU Jewish community for another reason. The anniversary of the concentration camp liberation occurs during a year that many members of the CMU Jewish population feel has been tumultuous, due to recent anti-Israel and anti-Jewish speakers on campus.
But according to Goykhman, cultural groups on campus are making progress. ?The events that we?ve had, the speakers that we?ve had, have brought to the surface what the students had been feeling ? and the administration is really paying attention to it,? she said.
Following the Seeking Alliances through Leadership and Diversity (SALAD) workshop a few weeks ago, members of Hillel have organized activities with various other groups on campus, including co-sponsoring Ethiopian Jewish musician Alula Tzadik with SPIRIT on March 23.
?It?s not that people were [reluctant] about collaborating on events, but we never really knew how to,? Goykhman said.
With the Holocaust Remembrance events, members of Hillel hoped to bridge the gaps between groups while exposing them to Jewish history. ?There are people who have never heard of the Holocaust ? and that?s significant,? Klein said.
Goykhman agrees. ?Everyone has had some experience with hate.?
Editor?s Note: Adina Klein is a member of The Tartan?s copy staff.