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Remembering the Holocaust is just as vital today as it was in the 20th Century, if not more so.
In my senior year of high school, I took a class called “Facing History and Ourselves” in which I learned more about the Holocaust than I had in any other history class.
Through class discussions and readings, my teacher, Mr. Robinson, taught us about the political and economic state of Germany after World War I, Adolf Hitler’s rise to power, the start of World War II, the brutality of the concentration camps, and the suffering and death more than six million Jews experienced. We read personal stories and watched films like “The Pianist” and “Schindler’s List”.
And we talked with a Holocaust survivor.
I can’t remember her name or what concentration camp she was in, but I do remember some of the stories she told us. She mentioned she was a part of a resistance group that worked on assembly lines. They were often in charge of loading guns for the Nazis, or sewing buttons onto their uniforms.
She told us that in order to fight back, they would try to do little things that could be seen as accidental or a mechanical error, so no one would get in trouble.
They sometimes tried to load the bullets incorrectly so the gun wouldn’t shoot or, if working on the Nazi uniforms, would sew the buttons on uneven to their corresponding holes, so they wouldn’t button up correctly.
She talked about her camp’s liberation day; how Nazi soldiers tried to flee and how she and her fellow survivors could barely eat when the Allies offered them food because they had gone so long without decent meals they were emaciated. Trying to regulate their bodies to eating again was difficult, and often led to illness.
But what shocked me the most was when she told us that there were Holocaust deniers. My classmates and I couldn’t understand this.
She told us that she was glad to be able to talk with us, explaining that it was important for us to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors, who were getting old and dying. She stressed the importance for younger generations to make sure that the tragedy of the Holocaust was always remembered.
On Sunday, April 27, the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga offers its annual observance of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. The event is free and open to the public and will begin at 3 p.m., with members of the community reading the names of victims. According to organizers, Holocaust survivors, their children, grandchildren, and children of concentration camp liberators will join the ceremony at 4 p.m.
In addition, there will be readings, music, prayers and a keynote address. This year’s keynote will be led by Dr. John W. Steinberg, chair of the department of history and philosophy at Austin Peay State University. As a former Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies at the United States Holocaust Memorial and Museum, Steinberg’s address will be on “Memory and the Holocaust in Germany and Poland in the 21st Century.”
According to organizers, Steinberg has also “directed a Holocaust study tour to Berlin and Krakow and is engaged in ongoing research on the role of collaborators in the Soviet Union during the Holocaust in addition to his substantial research into the history of Russia.”
Some say that history repeats itself. The famous George Santayana quote, “Those who cannot recall the past are doomed to repeat it” is perhaps now almost a cliché. But learning about the Holocaust, accepting that it happened, and remembering that the millions of tragedies took place, is the way to make sure that this history doesn’t repeat itself.
The Jewish Cultural Center is located at 5461 N. Terrace Rd. The observance is free and open to the public and begins at 3 p.m. For more information about this event or the Cultural Center, contact Ann Treadwell at (423) 493-0270, ext. 13 or visit the Center’s website: jewishchattanooga.com