Holocaust breakfast encourages awareness of global genocide

Holocaust breakfast encourages awareness of global genocide

By Cait Dooley

Despite the early hour, the voice of Ann Grenell, program coordinator of Jewish studies and director of the Holocaust Awareness Committee, boomed with full force Tuesday morning at the 25th Annual Holocaust Awareness President’s Breakfast in the Raytheon Amphitheatre and more than 100 alumni, faculty and students listened.

“Today, we are listening. Today, we are bearing witness to the truth … and to all of the events that constitute the Holocaust,” Grenell said. “We say today that the Holocaust did happen and that we choose the duty of remembering and honoring all victims of the Shoah (the Hebrew word for Holocaust).”

The international community has made progress in recognition, with the United Nations declaring Holocaust denial ahistorical, but there is still more work to be done, Grenell said.

“And who would have thought in the year 2007, perhaps the most recognizable of Holocaust survivors, a 78-year-old, Elie Wiesel, would be attacked in a San Francisco hotel by a young white male, a Holocaust denier?” she asked.

Grenell stressed the importance of acknowledging the Holocaust and said, “One of the ways to honor and remember the victims of the Holocaust is to confront injustice, hatred and genocide whenever and wherever they are being perpetrated.”

In reference to the situation in Darfur, President Joseph Aoun said at the breakfast, “Yes, there are Holocaust deniers, but also there are Holocausts being done as we speak.”

Northeastern University and Facing History and Ourselves, a national organization focusing on teaching tolerance through the Holocaust, are “seriously considering” a partnership. Aoun said both groups hope to combine resources and “further the mission that Facing History and Ourselves has.” However, he said that the plan was only in discussion and has not been finalized.

“Imagine a situation where we take what we do here and take what they do and we combine our resources, we combine the competence we have and we become one. That’s what we’re working on,” he said.

The keynote speaker, Northeastern Professor Inez Hedges, a Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and cultural studies and co-director of the cinema studies program, spoke about “postmemory” of the Holocaust during her talk, “Holocaust and Living Memory: France and the Shoah.”

Hedges said postmemory can be created by those who didn’t live through the Holocaust by making it part of their identity.

“What do I mean by “living memory”? I mean a memory that has some of the freshness of lived experience, even though it is not a personal memory,” she said.

German propaganda photographs of prisoners at Drancy, a French Nazi deportation site, which people instinctively assume are authentic, are just one example of the difficulties of creating an accurate postmemory. Even the monuments at Drancy itself prove difficult in adding to “living memory” of the French Shoah because of the lack of accessibility and information. Hedges said instead, films and narratives may be a more reliable source.

“The trauma of Drancy is still something that needs to be worked through if we are to reach an understanding of this crisis period in French and European history,” Hedges said.

She closed with the idea that books, films and writings participate in the ongoing labor of bringing the remembrance of the Holocaust forward into the present as a “living memory.”

Jonathan Meacham, a junior music history major and Klein Scholar, had planned to play “Variations on a Lullaby” by Gideon Klein on the vibraphone with a band, but, the group got stuck in New York.

Instead, Meacham performed another emotionally charged piece of music written by a Terezin composer Karel Berman.

The Gideon Klein Award was established by chemistry Professor Bill Giessen in 1997, in honor of his mother. The award is given to a student to honor and study the works of musicians, like Klein, who were persecuted by the Nazis.

Amanda Mozes, a freshman psychology major, said she appreciated the insight given both by Grenell and Hedges. The topic of Hedge’s speech was especially relevant because Mozes’s grandparents went through France on their way to the United States during the Holocaust, and said, “France is not usually the highlight of Holocaust awareness.”

The breakfast was sponsored by many campus groups including the Gustel Gissen Memorial Fund, Spiritual Life Center, History Department, Northeastern University Hillel, Office of the President, Office of the Provost, School of Law, Snell Library, Center for Interdisciplinary Studies, Vivian Rubenstein and School of General Studies.

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