On Jan. 27, 1945, Allied forces liberated the largest concentration camp, Auschwitz, where the Nazis murdered 1.1 million people. On the 75th anniversary of that liberation, students from the University of Mississippi visited the state Legislature and joined legislators from across the state to mourn and remember victims of the Holocaust.
Four members of the UM Hillel, a student organization founded to support Jewish student community life, commemorated the solemn anniversary Monday (Jan. 27) during a ceremony in the House of Representatives chamber at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson. Rep. Tommy Reynolds, R-District 33, invited the Ole Miss group to the event.
“The 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz symbolizes the end of destruction caused by hate,” said Madeline Friedman, a junior integrated marketing communication major from Madison, Wisconsin, and president of the UM Hillel. Friedman was joined by Jacob Goldberg, of San Antonio, Texas, a senior history major; Francessca Kirdy, of Webster Groves, Missouri, a junior integrated marketing communications major; and Sonya Dannenberg, of Atlanta, a freshman film and political science major.
“To mark this anniversary, we thought it would be appropriate to share the words of the late writer and Nobel laureate, Elie Wiesel,” Friedman said.
During the ceremony, Hillel members read excerpts from Wiesel’s speeches, including his 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech. They concluded with an ecumenical prayer specially written for the anniversary by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis and Imam Qari Asim.
Friedman said the presentation was well-received.
“Everyone was so welcoming and gave their full attention,” Friedman said. “We learned a lot about the state Capitol, which was very exciting for us out-of-state kids who are proud to now call Mississippi our home, and today helped us feel even more so.
“As the Hillel president, I feel a big responsibility to be a leader in the community, and today was a good opportunity for that.”
Besides being the anniversary of the Auschwitz liberation, Jan. 27 is known as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day of education and mourning that commemorates the Holocaust. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum defines the Holocaust as “the systematic, bureaucratic, state-sponsored persecution and murder of six million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazi regime and its collaborators.”
Goldberg said the commemoration was important to him as a Jewish student at the university.
“I’ve been a part of the Hillel for four years and I feel like we have really built it from the ground up since then,” he said. “It’s exciting to see how the organization is growing. We want to show that there is a big and vibrant Jewish community in Oxford.”
Reynolds said that both the ceremony and the invitation to UM Hillel have personal meaning drawn from his own relationships with Holocaust survivors growing up.
“I personally know that there are Holocaust survivors in Mississippi,” said Reynolds, an Ole Miss alumnus. “With every year that passes, these men and women become fewer and fewer.
“While the event was more horrific than anyone can imagine, it will always be appropriate to remember its victims and the people who survived its atrocities.”
Jason Solinger, faculty adviser for the students, affirmed Reynolds’ sentiments.
“It’s important to have these ceremonies because they force us to confront and wrestle with a crime whose scale and systematic nature is difficult to process,” said Solinger, an associate professor of English. “This is not the first time that the UM Hillel has sponsored a Holocaust remembrance program.
“In 2017, the Hillel and the Jewish Federation of Oxford collaborated with local schools to bring Holocaust survivor and author Marion Blumenthal Lazan. During her visit, Lazan spoke to area students, including UM students, about the Holocaust and about her personal journey to America at the close of World War II.”
Founded in 2009, the Hillel conducts Jewish religious services in Paris-Yates Chapel, led by visiting rabbis and cantors. The group also co-sponsors, with the JFO, a range of cultural, social and intellectual events on campus and in Oxford, ranging from speakers to food events, social events and holiday gatherings.
By Edwin B. Smith