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“I believe in the sun, even when it is not shining. I believe in love, even when there’s no one there. I believe in God, even when he is silent.” – “A Poem of Belief” by a prisoner in a Nazi concentration camp

The Marist College Holocaust Remembrance Committee hosted its 27th annual Holocaust Remembrance on Thursday, April 6 in the Nelly Goletti Theater. Under the direction of Dr. Joshua Kotzin, associate professor of English and Jewish studies coordinator, and associate dean for student affairs Steve Sansola, the committee provided students with a night Screen Shot 2017-04-13 at 11.31.09 AMof reflection and love with this graceful and impactful tribute.

The highlight of the event was a Q&A-style interview with a survivor of two concentration camps who related her experiences to the substantial crowd.

Regina Samelson grew up in Poland before the time of the Holocaust. At the age of 17, she entered her first concentration camp with her younger sister. Most of the rest of her family joined the six million massacred European Jews when they were sent to death camps for execution. After enduring the most horrific forms of dehumanization, Samelson and her sister were liberated in April 1945. From there they traveled to Belgium to reunite with an older brother who had also survived. In addition to the interview, which was conducted by Marist student Brittany Hampton, Samelson shared two of her own writings concerning her liberation day and the forgotten children of the Holocaust.

According to Kotzin, this is Samelson’s first time speaking at the college. He and Sansola know members of the Jewish community, in addition to tracking down other survivors who speak at different events. Kotzin explains that Samelson spoke at a high school within the local area a couple of years ago and, after Kotzin read about the event in a local newspaper and contacted her, she was more than happy to speak here at Marist.

Hampton and Samelson during the interview.

Hampton and Samelson during the interview.

“I always find it so impressive that people who have been through so much are so willing to just put themselves out there…for no [return],” reflects Kotzin. “And many survivors are like that. They really feel that it’s kind of their obligation to tell the story even though it clearly is painful for them to do it.”

Alissa Sytsma, ’20, says that Samelson’s heartbreaking yet powerful words were her favorite part of the event. She shares, “It’s such a rare opportunity, hearing someone talk about that experience. In a few years you’re no longer going to have that opportunity.”

“Having a speaker like Regina come to relay her stories is really important to make sure that people understand that something like this can never, ever, happen again, in our world, to anybody,” recounts freshman Abby Rodgers, who serves on the committee.

Accompanying Samelson’s speech, Marist students shared their voices and their movements to further commemorate those who were trampled by the wrath of Nazi Germany. The chamber choir, under the direction of choral director Sarah Williams, who is also a member of the committee, sang three pieces while accompanied by Marist dancers. While they performed, the dancers lit seven candles to pay respect to the six million Jews and one million Gentiles who lost their lives, which was followed by a moment of silence.

Their symbolic and moving presentation illustrated the tragedy and loss of innocence that the Holocaust brought to the Jewish population, but also provided a beacon of hope that this devastation will never happen again.

A dancer during the moment of silence.

A moment of silence took place after lighting candles.

Additionally, the Marist College Hillel club set up an artistic piece outside of the Nelly featuring a painting created by club members as well as photos from the Holocaust. There is also an easel with a canvas for students who wish to to “reflect on the event, reflect on the pictures, reflect on our painting, and write what they want to,” says freshman Hillel and Holocaust Remembrance Committee member Sara Beth Turner, who contributed to the idea. “We wanted it to be something that a lot of people could be a part of, and kind of a community thing.”

While it was taken down for the Accepted Student Open House, it has been reassembled and will be available for further viewing for a week.

Student attendance was very high for this year’s Holocaust Remembrance. The Nelly packed a full-house audience with some students standing in the back in order to witness this incredible experience. This abundance of student interest only conveys that there is hope for future generations that the barbarity and terrors of the Holocaust will never be repeated.

“I think it’s important that we’re reminded of these horrors,” recounts Sytsma, “because if we don’t realize the weight of these events it makes it easier for history to repeat itself. For me, especially in a time where tensions are rising, I think it’s an important lesson to have right now that we as humans are capable of that kind of evil and to make sure it never happens again.”

Chamber Choir performing during the event.

Chamber Choir performing during the event.

Turner, a Jewish student on campus, shares, “I went to the Anne Frank house this summer and that’s what made it real for me. I knew what happened, I had taken classes, I had done projects. But I feel like the school needed something here that shows [people] that this is real and this happened. [Samelson] was standing there herself. So I think just to be able to look at her and see that she went through all of this, and to have her standing right in front of them, was special.”

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