Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Vol. CLIV, Issue 5
Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Students come to Holocaust lecture in support

Photo Credit : Bowman

When Lilly Black landed in Walla Walla earlier this week, it was the first time she set eyes on the college her grandson, sophomore Ryan Smith, attends. However, she came for more than just a family visit. Last night at 7 p.m., hundreds of students and members of the Walla Walla community  gathered in Maxey Auditorium to hear Black recount her trials as a Holocaust survivor. She appeared as a guest speaker for Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls this Sunday, April 11.

“Every time she has told me her story, I’ve learned something new,” said Smith as he introduced his grandmother.

Black stepped up to the microphone and stared out at family members and strangers, all of whom were all there to listen to her story.

“I really thought that Ryan was going to bring his class, and that would be it,” she said.

Black has spoken before about her experience but, according to Smith, never for an audience as big as the one that  greeted  her last night.

Black captured the audience with her story of hunger, desperation and finally liberation. As a 14-year-old from Romania, Black was taken with her family to  Auschwitz where she and her sister were  separated  from their parents. The two of them would survive, but not after living in five different concentration camps and experiencing hunger, forced labor and unfathomable cruelty.

“There are things there, I tell  you, [that were] very inhumane,” said Black.

Since 1992, Hillel-Shalom, Whitman College’s Jewish organization, has been bringing Holocaust survivors to campus to tell their stories. Sharon Kaufman-Osborn, Hillel-Shalom adviser and counselor at the Whitman College Counseling Center,  has been a driving force behind many of the lectures. According to Kaufman-Osborn, people’s interest in the Holocaust lectures has always been strong and the generosity of the speakers has always moved her.

“The Holocaust survivors who have come to speak have always volunteered their time. They have come to speak because they feel like it is part of their obligation to tell the world about their experiences,” she said.

While many came to the lecture with intentions of supporting Smith and to hear a grandmother’s story, there was a greater purpose that senior Hillel-Shalom President Jacqueline Kamm and Smith each noted.

“It’s really important to document [Holocaust survivors] first hand before it’s too late and before our generation has the job of passing on the story,” Smith said.

Kamm echoed Smith’s comment.

“As time goes on there are going to be fewer Holocaust survivors still around, so I think it’s very important for us to learn about their experiences as well as really value their experiences,” she said. “They are heroes.”

While the stories of Holocaust survivors throughout the years have all been different and unique to the individual, their stories are always astounding.

“It’s so amazing to think about my American children, what their lives are like, and what this woman did when she was 12,” said Kaufman-Osborn about a past Holocaust speaker on campus.

As Black finished her story, recalling her joy at arriving in America, she left the audience with an appreciation for their daily life.

“I had never seen any people so wonderful. I can’t ever tell you how absolutely wonderful [it is] to know that you are going to be free, and that you’re not going to be killed,” she said.

Black’s story was moving: She finished to a standing ovation for her bravery at recounting her story and willingly sharing her personal struggles.

Her story’s connection to a student on campus helped, more than ever, to drive home the message of the Holocaust and its impact.

“What happened has to be retold so that it is never forgotten. It’s part of our history,” said Smith.

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