Thaniuska Vivas / Contributing Writer
Former NBA champion and Miami Heat player, Ray Allen, spoke about the importance of remembering the Holocaust and recalled his experience visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp for FIU’s Diversity Day.
The event which was sponsored by FIU Hillel, the Student Government Association and the Academic Career Success Center was hosted via Zoom on Oct. 20 from 12:30 p.m. to 1:45 p.m.
Allen’s path to becoming a member of the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s board began with a class project. He was inspired to learn about the Holocaust after watching “Schindler’s List” during his freshman year at the University of Connecticut.
“Most people look at something [like the Holocaust] as a story, something that happened a long time ago that doesn’t affect them,” he said. “[‘Schindler’s List] is about what people can do to someone else. It’s about how people feel about other people that don’t look like them.”
Allen’s time in the NBA didn’t stop him from visiting the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. Allen would visit the museum whenever he landed in Washington with his teammates. He shared with the audience the museum’s impact on his decision to visit Auschwitz.
Ray Allen. Photo Courtesy of FIU Hillel
“For me to go to Auschwitz, it was about having the opportunity to tell the story from the point of view of a black person,” Allen said. “I needed to bear witness to the atrocities that took place.”
In 2017, Allen took his first trip to Auschwitz. When asked by Jon Warech, the director for FIU Hillel, about his visit to the concentration camp, Allen did not hesitate to describe how he felt when he stepped foot into the camp.
“It’s terrifying because when you get off that train, you don’t know where you are,” Allen said. “It gives you a real-life understanding of what [the Jewish people] felt and what they went through.”
Allen did not spare any details about the bunk bed arrangements and the lack of privacy in the camp’s bathrooms.
“It was eerie just being in a space where such [many] atrocities have taken place,” he said.
While the visit was emotionally draining, what was also hard to ignore was the stark difference between the museum and the actual concentration camp.
“It’s hard to imagine when you’re in a museum, and you’re being told a story that’s all packaged nicely,” Allen said. “But until you go to Auschwitz 1 or 2 – or [any camp in Europe] – you don’t get the sense of what it felt like.”
Audience members were allowed to submit questions to Allen throughout the presentation. Jon Warech moderated the Q & A session. Some of the questions that were directed towards Mr. Allen also pertained to the current presidential election and other global social justice issues.
“We can’t allow these atrocities to take place not just in America, but also the world,” he said. “America can’t live in the past.”
Allen encouraged the audience to research their candidates prior to the Nov. 3 elections. “It’s not about politics; it’s about your moral compass… We never know the impact that we have on those around us,” he stated.
When asked by Warech about how the Jewish and Black communities can unite, Allen expressed his admiration for the Jewish community’s unity and how he would like to introduce that sense of unity into urban environments.
“The greatest thing that I admire about the Jewish culture is the communities that [they] have built,” he said. “That’s not the case in urban environments.”
Other topics that were discussed during the panel discussion included human rights. The former basketball player shared with the audience the importance of fighting for human rights. Allen also taught the panel and audience members to continue speaking up for the oppressed.
“Until you immerse yourself in everything that people go through, only then will you understand truly what it was to have to go through [a traumatic event],” he said.