PLATTSBURGH — Students and religious leaders expressed their feelings about the Holocaust through poetry, prose and thoughtful questions.
Dr. Douglas Skopp coordinated the first Days of Remembrance Holocaust commemoration more than two decades ago, said SUNY Plattsburgh professor Dr. Jonathan Slater.
”It’s important to recall that ideas, for better or worse, can come from anyone, anywhere and can take root with anyone, anywhere,” Slater told the 50 or so people gathered in the Douglas and Evelyn Skopp Holocaust Memorial Gallery in Feinberg Library for the annual event.
ASHES AND TEARS
In the gallery, which includes a display of battered spoons found at Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland by former Associate Professor of English Steven Steinlight, two SUNY Plattsburgh students read from the submissions that won them first place in the Douglas R. Skopp Creative Competition on the theme of the Holocaust.
Deborah Katz recited her poem, “A Granddaughter’s Onus,” which she dedicated to her grandparents, who were affected by the Holocaust.
“What stories are told / to the next generation / which lessons are taught ...
“How is it rebuilt / What can stand on a foundation of ashes and tears,” Katz recited.
“We need to learn the past ... not forgetting, but learning a new way forward.”
Umberto Angilletta read an excerpt from his research paper, “The Sins of the Father.”
“I have chosen not to write on how we remember the Holocaust today but instead how the Holocaust was treated in the years following its close,” Angilletta said.
“People did not simply abandon their beliefs once the Nazis fell, and there was no immediate moment of clarity that brought about a recognition of the wrongs done.
“So how do people deal with or come to terms with atrocity? How does a civil society come back from genocide?”
Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime annihilated some 6 million Jews during World War II in Europe.
“It’s hard to imagine something so extreme could ever happen,” said Rachel Gallagher, president of the college’s Jewish organization, Hillel.
She asked that the audience and others not just pause to reflect on the Holocaust on the Days of Remembrance but every day.
Rabbi Kari Hofmaister Tuling of Temple Beth Israel in Plattsburgh read from “Does Diversity Matter? Herman Cohen and the German Jews,” part of a modified version of her dissertation.
“My question, ‘Does diversity matter?’ is a critical one. Is it something to be encouraged or is it ultimately destructive to a nation’s cultural tradition?” Tuling said.
The German attitude at the time of the Holocaust was that Jews were a threat to German identity, she said.
Tuling answered her question using beliefs held by German philosopher and Jew Herman Cohen, who countered the widely accepted opinion of renowned German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
That nature of Kant’s hypothesis on moralism deemed Judaism immoral since, in his view, the religion denies autonomy since Judaism is governed by the laws of the Torah, the rabbi said.
Kant’s views further alienated Jews from German society, she said.
“I do not think it is possible to overestimate the influence of Kant on German society at that time.”
Lynn Neake, who attended the event, said acceptance of different faiths and beliefs is part of the teachings of the Baha’i faith, to which she belongs.
She had read Skopp’s novel, “Shadows Walking,” published in 2010.
So had Sara Richman, who teaches at SUNY Plattsburgh.
She described the book as an effort to “get inside the minds of the Germans (Nazis)” to explain how Nazi Germany emerged.
Katz’s and Angilletta’s very different works showed that the Holocaust can be remembered in many ways, attendee Sara Hurwitz said after the event.
“I thought the students were excellent.”
Katz had expressed her feelings with an emotional, personal touch, while Angilletta chose to analyze the attitude of German youth after the Holocaust from a historical perspective, Hurwitz observed.
She said Tuling’s question of diversity is “perfect for our time,” in light of modern events like the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s and the conflicts in Syria, as well as current government discussion on immigration reform.
Young people must decide how they will pick up the pieces of a broken society after catastrophic events, she said.
“How do they look at their country and their parents, and how do they go on?”
That question, Hurwitz said, continues to be relevant today, more than 65 years after the Holocaust.
Email Felicia Krieg:firstname.lastname@example.org