Where I am from — a small, Christian farm town in Connecticut — there was nothing to do, nor was there any diversity. At 15, I took a class trip to Philadelphia. Attending the Holocaust awareness conference at the Holocaust Awareness Museum at Gratz College on Nov. 7, 2010, had an incredible impact on me. I knew about the Holocaust in general terms. A lot of Jewish people died, and all I knew was that it was “a bad thing”; it was just history to me. For the first time in my life, I heard survivors of the Holocaust speak, both Jews and Gentiles. Inspired by this conference, I brought a similar experience to my high school in Central Village, Conn., to spread the stories of survivors, passing them on l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation.
Afraid that bringing Holocaust education to others would not be a part of my life anymore, I was elated when George Mason University Hillel asked me to volunteer at the Expressions of the Holocaust: Honoring Survivors of the Holocaust Dinner. I joined 39 of my fellow Mason student survivor ambassadors to welcome the 40 Holocaust survivors who would be coming to campus. Almost 300 people were in attendance, whom we honored with music, art, food, and by listening to their testimonies. As a student ambassador, I had the opportunity to engage one-on-one beforehand with survivors and listen to their memories.
Irene Weiss, a Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz, was the keynote speaker. She lost her brother and father, and was forced to work next to the crematoriums of the infamous death camp. A picture of Mrs. Weiss’ family is featured in the permanent exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. On stage was a painting of this last family photograph by Dr. Pat Mercer Hutchins.
Rose Reichbach shocked me that her survival was not from the Germans, but the Russians. She was shoved into cattle cars and sent to a Siberian work camp was even shuttled around to parts of Central Asia. Even after all of the research I have done, I did not know that had occurred.
Everyone kept saying “never forget” so it would “never again” happen, but we didn’t fully acknowledge that genocide continues to happen in places like Bosnia, Somalia and Darfur. We need to take action to make these words mean something. Many U.S. citizens do not know enough about the Holocaust to understand the true tragedy of genocide plaguing the world today. I learned at the dinner that Holocaust education is mandated in only five out of 50 states.
We need to learn from the message these survivors express, record it and repeat it. We must internalize their stories. Then show, play and tell them to anyone who might be responsive so we can become Holocaust educators. The Expressions of the Holocaust: Dinner Honoring Survivors at Mason taught me that spreading these survivors’ memories from generation to generation will be the key to truly never forgetting.
Jordan Beauregard is a first-year student at George Mason University. He is focusing on international studies and has a goal of seeing Yad Vashem.