An Israeli tradition honoring Holocaust survivors has come to Miami University. First, second and third generation Holocaust survivors will be speaking across Miami’s campus in commemoration of Holocaust Memorial Day on April 12, 2018.
Hila Katz, the Jewish Agency Israel fellow to Hillel at Miami, has been working hard to bring this tradition from Israel to her new home in Ohio. Katz was able to participate in a program as a student in Israel that flew her to Poland to see the concentration camp sites from World War II.
“My grandmother from my father’s side survived Auschwitz,” Katz said. “So it was really important for me to go there and see where she was. She remembered which cabin she stayed in, and I actually went to that one and put a flower for her memory.”
In telling her grandmother’s story, Katz began to get emotional and had to pause and collect herself. Her love and pride in her grandmother showed in her smile as she continued with the story.
“She survived this,” Katz said. “She went to Israel and built a family. And it was just so important for me to go and do that.”
Like Katz’s grandmother, many survivors take great pride in telling their stories. For Dr. Al Miller, a first generation Holocaust survivor, telling his story is also a matter of making sure history doesn’t repeat itself.
Dr. Miller came to speak at the Crawford’s house on April 2. A group of around 40 students and faculty members sat in couches and chairs in the living room and listened to his story.
He was born in Berlin in 1922, and was only 10 years old when Hitler came into power. At the beginning and end of each school day, the teacher would salute Hitler and every student would salute back. Little by little, his friends, neighbors and even some of his teachers would stop talking to him and his family because they were Jewish.
The Holocaust enforced the idea that, “The Jews are our misfortune.”
“If no one contradicts a lie, because it’s convenient or because they don’t want to speak up, words are added and it becomes the truth,” Dr. Miller said.
While words were the beginning of the problem, Dr. Miller emphasized that words are also a key part of the solution.
“Words are ever so important,” Dr. Miller said. “With words, you can intimidate people, you can say nasty things … or you can make people feel like one million dollars, you can change something in their life. It’s up to you.”
Speakers like Dr. Miller were able to come thanks to Katz reaching out to the Holocaust & Humanity Center in Cincinnati. Holocaust & Humanity Center Executive Director Sarah Weiss is thrilled to partner with Miami University on such an important event.
“Memory In the Living Room” will give students a chance to hear stories from survivors, their children and their grandchildren. The open-form dialogue that the living room setting creates will make the experience much different from a lecture series or other presentation that you might see in a museum or auditorium.
“We are the last generation and, in particular, today’s youth are the last generation that will have the opportunity to interact first-hand with Holocaust survivors,” Weiss said. “Future generations will only be able to hear these stories second hand, or third hand, or in written or oral testimonials. It’s up to us to then pass those stories on and not only listen, but really open our hearts.”
This event allows people to learn about the Holocaust in a different way than in a traditional classroom setting. The experience as a whole helped Dr. Miller’s story and message resonate with those who listened.
“You hear [the Holocaust] in a classroom setting a lot and it’s a lot different to experience speaking with someone who actually was there firsthand and can give you their genuine feelings,” sophomore Hillel member Hannah Spector said. “Seeing that versus reading it out of a textbook is really impactful.”
Katz is very grateful for Hillel’s partnership with the university and their help in creating events like this to offer an educational experience for students.
“Something that happened a lot of years ago in the Holocaust does happen in smaller capacities in genocides still in our days,” she said. “In Africa and in so many other places. So bringing this program to this campus doesn’t only allow us to think of the past and what happened, but we also try to think of the present and the future to prevent this kind of thing from happening again.”
Memory in the Living Room is taking place at 7 p.m. April 2-4 in various places across campus.