Moments of silence and disbelief were experienced in the Nelly Golletti Theater on April 19 as the Marist College community remembered those lost in the Holocaust during the 29th Annual Holocaust Remembrance.
The ceremony featured performances by the Marist College Chamber Singers, a welcome speech from President David Yellen, and a lighting of memorial candles. The event remembered those lost during the tragedy, as well as honored those still living. “People think of the Holocaust as this historical event and something that was so long ago and far away when realistically there are survivors,” says Justin Katz, President of Marist College Hillel.
Among the survivors was Michael Silberstein, a Holocaust survivor and the featured speaker. Hundreds of students, faculty, and local residents gathered to listen to Silberstein’s inspiring story of agony and survival. During the sixty minute recount of his life, Silberstein described the horrors of enduring a Jewish ghetto and two concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Like so many others, his experience was excruciating, but his triumph is inspiring.
At eighty-nine years old, Silberstein is a true survivor. But the horror he faced during the years of 1939 to 1945 will be forever branded in his memory, just as the scars are on his skin. He recalls arriving at Auschwitz and being tattooed so the Nazi soldiers could identify the prisoners. “From then on I was just a number. But I was lucky because I was alive,” said Silberstein.
After three years in a concentration camp, World War II ended. When the Americans liberated Germany, he was fourteen years-old, completely alone, and two of his five siblings along with his mother had been killed by the Nazis. “I had nothing to lose anymore,” recalls Silberstein of his eventual move to the United States. Yet Silberstein still reiterates that he was one of the lucky ones to be able to escape.
Lucky is a relative term, but alive is exactly what Silberstein and hundreds of thousands of other survivors are. Yet the hundreds of thousands left are a minimal sample compared to the tens of millions lost in the most horrifying attack on human existence in modern history. Stories like these live on through survivors, but survivors are in their 80’s, 90’s and 100’s. Time with them is precious; to hear their stories, and make sure what happened to them never happens to humanity again. “It’s so incredible to hear the stories of survivors firsthand, because they won’t be around forever. In order to prevent tragedies we must remember and honor them,” said ceremony attendee and Marist College Junior Elizabeth Sullivan. On this particular night, the Holocaust Remembrance Committee felt the most chilling reminder was the most necessary: that the Holocaust was not that long ago. “The event was directed towards anti-semitism, but it encompassed a broader aspect of hate in general,” says Katz.
The scars revealed by Michael Silberstein are a reminder to the Marist College community that the human race must collectively never let something like this happen again. And according to Katz that is what the committee was conveying to the community, “I think it’s really important to remind people that something on that scale happened only seventy years ago…And that’s what the committee was trying to portray with the event; to stop hate.”