Students unite to remember Holocaust

by David Anderson

Seeing his parents’ graves in the New York area a few weeks ago reminded Henry Greenspan, a University of Michigan psychology professor and playwright, of those who don’t have a sepulcher to be remembered by.
In the case of the millions of victims of Nazi persecution whose bodies were burned in concentration camp crematoriums, keeping the memory of Holocaust horrors alive depends solely on the efforts of following generations.
“It’s not a matter of sympathy or compassion, or even grief,” Greenspan said. “It’s a matter of geography. If there is no place where they belong, there is no place precisely where we belong.”
Greenspan spoke at a campus commemoration of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, held Tuesday by Hillel, the University’s Jewish student center, in front of the Weisman Art Museum.
Students lit candles, sang and read poetry, and the 50-person crowd observed a minute of silence in memory of the majority of those killed in the context of Nazi Germany’s “Final Solution.”
Greenspan said the Holocaust forces us to reconsider our beliefs about people, life, morality and humanity — especially at a time when the far right is on the rise in European countries such as Austria and France.
“We don’t know yet whether the Holocaust was the end or the beginning,” he said. “The Holocaust may have been the first act of what will get worse, not the last thing.”
Among a dozen presenters, a deaf University student reminded those in attendance of people who were killed because of their disabilities.
The global conflict claimed the lives of more than 16 million civilians — including 6 million Jews and more than 250,000 people with disabilities — from Hitler’s ascent to power in Germany in 1933 to the 1945 armistice.
However, Tuesday’s commemoration did not mention homosexuals, gypsies and other groups persecuted by the Nazis.
Although the gay and lesbian minority is often left out in Holocaust victims’ commemorations, people are slowly learning about Nazi persecutions of homosexuals, said Miss Alison, office coordinator for the University’s Queer Student Cultural Center.
The Knesset — the Israeli parliament — set up the remembrance day in 1951. The yearly commemorations are scheduled for the 27th day of the Nissan month on the Hebrew calendar.
Jay Siegel, a history senior who organized the campus commemoration, said although students are aware of what happened in Europe before and during World War II, few really understand the Holocaust and its repercussions.
And Stephen Feinstein, director of the University’s Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said the remembrance day should be commemorated by both Christians and Jews.
“Some people really don’t process the concept that Jesus was Jewish,” Feinstein said. If Jesus were alive at the time of the Nazis, he too would have ended in a concentration camp, he said.
But 55 years after the end of the war, most of the participants in the Tuesday’s commemorations were not alive at the time of the Holocaust. Fewer and fewer surviving victims remain to talk about Nazi atrocities.
“Now that generation is slowly dying, (the question is) what needs to be done to remember the victims of the Holocaust,” Siegel said.
Through events such as the remembrance day, Greenspan and the Hillel are therefore trying to find a place for Holocaust victims in the memory of this generation of students.
“Our parents, our brothers, our sisters, our people, even if we never knew them, somehow we miss them,” Greenspan said.

David Anderson covers international perspectives and professional schools and welcomes comments at [email protected]