Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Maintaining Historical Memory through International Holocaust Remembrance Day

On Saturday, Jan. 27, communities across the globe honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Designated by the United Nations, the day marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camps. At Whitman, honoring Holocaust remembrance has been an annual occurrence that came with a few key changes this year. 

Interfaith Chaplain Adam Kirtley explained that this year, the Office of Religious and Spiritual life looked to the community for help coordinating and planning events. A committee of students, staff, faculty and community members from Congregation Beth Israel collaborated to coordinate three events.

For sophomore committee member Jessie Levine, being involved in planning this year’s events has been a crucial point of connection. 

“Being able to relate to the people on the committee and be a part of a process that requires so much empathy and thoughtfulness was really helpful for me in feeling supported and finding a community,” Levine said. 

After lots of hard work and planning, the International Holocaust Remembrance Day Planning Committee successfully facilitated three events in the week leading up to International Holocaust Remembrance Day: a screening of the documentary “The Flat,” a gathering to recite the Mourner’s Kaddish and a screening of the documentary “Nina and Irena” followed by a question and answer with the director. 

Kirtley described unique challenges  that have recently arisen as Holocaust survivors age. Because many Holocaust survivors are no longer able to do speaking engagements, the committee turned to second-generation voices that reckoned with the historical loss that happens when the world loses access to survivor stories.

“It really is a dual effort; how do we pause to look back at the Holocaust and make sure that the names of these folks who perished don’t vanish into obscurity, but also how do we take the lessons of what happened and apply them in a more inclusive and broad way to diminish hate wherever it’s rearing its head?” Kirtley said. 

To close out the week’s series of events, around 40 attendees gathered to watch Daniel Lombroso’s short film “Nina and Irena” before getting to engage with Lombroso directly through a question and answer session that delved into topics like storytelling, intergenerational trauma and familial joy. 

“Nina and Irena” followed Lombroso as he spent time with his grandmother, gradually learning about her experience as a Holocaust survivor. For Lombroso, this meant uncovering the tragedy and grief caused by the Holocaust while also crafting a story of hope. 

“There’s a lot of Holocaust fatigue unfortunately … [but] there’s this other part of the story about the vitality of these people and the lives they lived after — my grandma’s story is one of rebuilding,” Lombroso said during the question and answer segment. 

For Levine, Lombroso’s documentary displayed a vast array of emotions. 

“Picking a movie about not having the answers directly from people and almost having to solve this mystery and put the pieces together of what happened made it feel like the really perfect film,” Levine said. “It was a range of emotions, you had a lot of joy among family members and also a lot of sadness and hard realizations.” 

During the question and answer segment, Lombroso spoke on the importance of continuing to document the memories of Holocaust survivors, encouraging family members to bridge generational silence with honest conversations. For Levine, this model of engagement was crucial.

“Hearing his perspective and having a model of how to go about having these conversations with people was really, really helpful,” Levine said. “It’s something that a lot of people who went through it don’t want to talk about again, and so having that example of how to bridge that gap or how to approach it was really powerful for me.”

With the introduction of a committee and multiple events to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Whitman community continues critical work to ensure that space for survivor stories continues to be held long into the future. 

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