‘Never forget:’ UB community remembers those lost in the Holocaust
The names of those who died in the Holocaust rang through the Student Union Flag Room on Thursday.
Hillel of Buffalo invited UB students, faculty and community members to read victims’ names as part of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day. Yom HaShoah, May 1-2, is a day of remembrance for the roughly six million people who died during the Holocaust.. Hillel spent Saturday afternoon selling coffee and donuts to help raise money in light of the shooting of the Chabad of Poway in California.
Tamara Thornton, a history professor, read the names of family members who died in the Holocaust. She said there was “essentially nobody” in the flag room listening to the names but she “felt the names needed to be heard.”
Thornton’s mother, Edith Fischgrund Plakins, was held in Auschwitz concentration camp before being moved to a slave labor camp in Salzwedel, Germany. The U.S. 84th Regiment liberated the camp on April 14, 1945.
Thornton said “we must always remember” the tragedy of the Holocaust, and said the expression “never forget” doesn’t only apply to the Jewish community.
“For me, of course, it’s very personal. … But it’s much more universal than that,” Thornton said. “I don’t –– and I know my mother did not –– think of ‘never forget’ as ‘never forget just Jews.’ It is a universal message. We have to constantly stay aware that [humans] do this to each other.”
Danielle Erdos, a freshman English major and Hillel member, said the day’s events illustrated how the Jewish community is “still connected” through all of the past and present tragedies it has faced.
“I think it shows that [no one] can destroy us,” Erdos said. “We’re still here and we’re still standing together. We’re still just as strong as we were before.”
“My mother was a war bride, she married an American GI after the war and she loved America. She was very patriotic. She felt safe here,” Thornton said. “She died in 2010 and I’m glad she did not see what happened afterwards. I think she would have been frightened. I’m frightened.”
Thornton said Jewish people have historically been “a convenient answer” when problems arise in society. She said everyone has a role to play when hate runs rampant, not just “the Hitlers of the world.”
“I think what is much more frightening is the much larger group of people who look the other way, who don’t think it’s their business, who allow it to happen, who are passive to evil,” Thornton said. “So [to] ‘never forget,’ I think it’s important that we remember a particular group of people, but also that we don’t forget the potential for going along with evil that is in most of us.”
Alexa Zappia, a Springboard Innovation Specialist at Hillel, said UB community members donated over $500 to Hillel’s fundraiser so far.
Zappia said the day proved that goodness still exists among the bad.
“In this world filled with hate, or what seems like it’s filled with hate, there’s so many people who want to promote kindness,” Zappia said. “Despite the hate that’s going on, people want to promote good.”
When her mother was alive, Thornton located the GI who shot open the gate of the camp, liberating her mother. Charles Byrd, the American GI from Snellville, Tennessee, became “very close friends” with Plakins.
“I never like to tell the story [as if] the Holocaust had a happy ending, there’s no happy ending,” Thornton said. “There are just little lights here and there. But as human beings, we have to try to have a little light here and there. And these two did that.”
Correction: Zappia said UB community members donated over $500 to Hillel’s fundraiser so far, not during the food fundrasier.
Jacklyn Walters is a co-senior news editor and can be reached at Jacklyn.Walters@ubspectrum.com and @JacklynUBSpec.