Holocaust Remembrance Week Max Chapnick ’13 and Alicia Bishop ’13

Although flowers were blooming outside during the second full week of spring term, our Hillel house had a more somber feel as we observed Holocaust Remembrance week. The week kicked off with our annual Holocaust Vigil. Pairing traditional music and powerful poems with a candle-lighting ceremony, W&L Hillel created a program that was moving and thought-provoking for all who attended. Students, professors, and community members participated, letting people from around Lexington remember, together, one of the most culturally significant and tragic events in our history. That weekend, 24 students boarded a mini-bus and drove to Washington D.C. to spend several hours at the Holocaust Museum. The week continued as students, faculty, and community members gathered in the multipurpose room to watch a documentary, The Last Days, directed by Stephen Spielberg and a movie screening of Sarah's Key. These heart-wrenching movies were difficult to watch, but gave perspectives we had not seen before. To conclude our remembrance week, Jay Ipson, Holocaust survivor, U.S. solider, successful businessman, and long-time Virginia resident gave a powerful presentation at Hillel. Ipson questioned his audience, "Can anything like the Holocaust happen here in America?" Ipson never answered his own question as he went on to describe both the political and his personal history during the years leading up to the outbreak of World War II. He spoke about how his family escaped a ghetto that had been turned into a concentration camp and how they managed to survive for months in a small dug-out hole in a poor farmer's field. Ipson noted that as a young boy his father taught him arithmetic by counting lice in the cramped space. Today Ipson is the founder and owner of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Roanoke, VA. It was a privilege for us to host Ipson, who not only presented the moving story of a boy who survived the Holocaust, but who is also a successful and charismatic man in his own right.

"Having never visited the national Holocaust Memorial Museum before, I honestly had no idea what to expect. I had heard emotional stories of people being moved to tears by the experience but was in no way prepared for the effect it would have on me personally. As our bus arrived at the building I recall being struck by its stern, austere architectural design and the somber yet ominous effect it induced upon me. Once inside, I learned the layout of the building as such: visitors start on the top floor, where they learn about the Nazi's ascent to power, and descend into the museum's lower floors, where exhibits depict horrific accounts of the concentration camps themselves. The museum's architect, James Ingo Freed, once stated that the visitor's descent into the museum's lower floors was designed to symbolize a veritable descent into hell. Having completed my tour, I can fully attest to the truth of this statement. Several exhibits proved particularly chilling and lingered in my mind long after the completion of my tour. The room filled with countless shoes of victims, as well as the wall-length mural depicting the thousands of pounds of shorn hair found at Auschwitz alone, left me speechless, while the medical experiments slideshow was a cruel reminder of the Nazi's total disregard for human life. As we made our way to the Wannsee Conference exhibit, my roommate Jack Murphy and I were unable to fathom how national political leaders, some seventy odd years ago, could calmly discuss plans for the systemic annihilation of an entire race of people. The entire experience was chilling, to say the least. As we neared the end of the museum, I began to reflect on my time there and was drawn, in my mind, to my past reading of Holocaust survivor and author Elie Wiesel's Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech and the lessons that I drew from it. Wiesel claimed, "Human suffering anywhere concerns men and women everywhere, and "that we must never forget the atrocities committed against the Jewish people to ensure that an event like the Holocaust never occurs again." "
-Cory Church '15