Holocaust survivor returns to University to honor Jews and other lives lost

Adrian Suarez Avila/ News Director



A holocaust day of remembrance was held last week on Thursday, April 16.


The event, hosted by Zeta Beta Tau fraternity and the Hillel Young Adult Division, was held in the Graham Center Ballrooms in the Modesto A. Maidique Campus.


The main purpose of the event was to honor the memory of Jews and other individuals who were victims of the Nazi concentration camps, according to Juan Gilces, a senior international relations major and brother of Zeta Beta Tau fraternity.


Gilces was in charge of coordinating the event.


Among the special guests was Isaac Klein, a holocaust survivor from the Auschwitz concentration camp and a subject in Dr. Mengele’s experiments.


Josef Mengele was an officer and physician in Auschwitz. He was infamous for choosing the victims who would be sent to the gas chambers and also for performing non-scientific experiments on the prisoners.


According to Gilces, Klein now volunteers at the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, and his presence at the event marked the first time in five years since he’s been to the University.


The Hillel Young Adult Division was charged with the responsibility of bringing Klein to the University.


The event was made possible by a grant with a value of $800 from the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation. Offered by the fraternity’s national office, the grant is normally used for programming for Jewish-affiliated events.


As the heritage chairman of Zeta Beta Tau, a position whose duties include understanding the fraternity’s Jewish roots and its founding, Gilces believed the grant would be ideal for the event.


Gilces said that he decided to host the event on Thursday, April 16 in order for it to coincide with holocaust remembrance day, which is observed in Israel and other parts of the world.


The idea for the event was sparked about a year ago, according to Gilces.


The first step was to apply for the grant. Once the Zeta Beta Tau Foundation approved the grant application, Gilces and his team sat down with Hillel in order to coordinate the logistics of the event, such as choosing the speakers who would attend and the general schedule for the event.


Gilces then met with the event planning office in the Graham Center to choose the venue.


Other guests in attendance to the event were Student Government Association at Modesto A. Maidique Campus President Alexis Calatayud, and Vice President Tiffany Roman Biffa. Shlomi Dinar, from the Department of Politics and International Relations, and Oren Baruch Stier from the Department of Religious Studies, were also present.


University President Mark B. Rosenberg was also there.


Rosenberg talked about his own experience dealing with memories of the holocaust, as his mother was a survivor of the event, according to Gilces.


Gilces said that Rosenberg spoke about the notion that memories of the holocaust were rooted in his upbringing as a first-generation survivor.


Rosenberg also commented that remembering the holocaust is not only about Jews, but also about the other individuals who were killed and the family members of the individuals who survived.


According to Gilces, Rosenberg said that the day of remembrance is also a day of celebration, considering that family members of holocaust survivors are also survivors in their own right.


While the event dealt with an issue pertaining specifically to Jews, all students and members of the University administration, faculty and staff were invited to attend.


“We geared this program to the entire community,” Gilces said.


Or Kaidar, the Israel fellow to Hillel, was also there to speak to the attendees.


A third-generation holocaust survivor, Kaidar is the granddaughter of survivors.


She spoke about her grandmother, who was sent to Auschwitz and was also experimented on by Mengele. She said that while growing up, her family never threw away food, a teaching of her grandmother, who experienced the scarcity of food in the concentration camps.


Gilces mentioned that retelling the memories of survivors is critical, considering that only a couple are still alive.


“Unfortunately, maybe in the next ten years there will be no survivors left, alive, to tell their own story.”


He added that the event provided a new take to understanding the history of the holocaust.


“This event was geared to explain the holocaust in a more personal way,” Gilces said, adding that listening to personal stories is very different from reading about the holocaust in a book in class.


Students shared their sentiments on the event.


“I have my personal religious beliefs, but even then I still believe that it’s important to have an understanding of other faiths and their struggles,” said Ananda Correa, a freshman religious studies major. “Jews have a long-standing history of oppression and the Holocaust is the supreme form of it.”


She added that events like the one hosted last Thursday are important because they provide an opportunity for Jews and non-Jews to share their thoughts on history and the future of the faith and its followers.


Others expressed a similar idea.


“Storytelling is beautiful,” said Doris Diaz, a sophomore psychology major. “It’s therapeutic, in some ways, and it allows people to purge strong emotions, especially in the context of Holocaust survivors recounting their experiences, which are surely traumatizing.”


Gilces said that although the day of remembrance has passed, there are various opportunities for students at the University to learn about the holocaust.


Among the resources available to students, according to Gilces, are the Holocaust Studies Initiative, housed in the School for International and Public Affairs, and the Holocaust Memorial Miami Beach, a type of memorial that few cities have, said Gilces.


“A lot of people do care, a lot of people want to learn [about the Holocaust,]” Gilces said.

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