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UI Hillel Foundation reflects on Auschwitz 70th anniversary

BY BEN TOWAR | JANUARY 28, 2015 5:00 AM

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Seventy years ago, the Soviet Red Army followed train tracks to the brick gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau, where an estimated 1.1 million Jews, Romanis, and other people deemed to be “undesirables” by Nazi Germany were systematically executed by the German SS over a period of six years.

Jan. 27 marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, one of the most infamous concentration camps used by the Nazis.

In remembrance of the tragedy, the Louis Shulman Hillel Foundation hosted a panel to educate students and citizens about the events surrounding the Holocaust.

Hillel Director Gerald Sorokin invited a panel of four educators from around the Midwest to speak at the event. After months of planning, Stephen Gaies, Elke Heckner, Dniel Reynolds, and Terri Toppler convened in Iowa City to speak to the audience at Hillel.

In the auditorium of the Hillel House, 122 E. Market St., students and others poured in at 7 p.m. Hillel staff had to bring in more chairs from the cafeteria area after the initial number of seats were filled.

“The turnout is very encouraging,” Sorokin said. “We were very glad to see that people are taking notice of this event and wish to learn more about what happened all those years ago.”

Gaies, a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and director of the Center for Holocaust and Genocide Education, began the event by quoting camp survivor Roman Kent.

“We do not want our past to become our children’s future,” he said.

Following brief statements from the other three panelists, the Hillel staff screened Steven Spielberg’s documentary  The Last Days (1998), which follows five Holocaust survivors on a quest for closure following their experiences behind the wiry fences of the concentration camps.

The emotional impact was seen throughout the audience as the images of malnourished and dying human beings were met with mournful groans from the audience.

After the 80-minute running time passed, the panelists began an open forum with the audience members.

Participants expressed events like the panel spark the idea of hope for the future.

Elke Heckner, visiting assistant professor at the UI’s Department of German said, “It’s easy to become cynical about our world today, with all its negative issues.”

According to Heckner, the liberation of Auschwitz is the “liberation of mankind,” in that today, societies can learn from yesterday’s mistakes and contrast a dark past with an even brighter future.


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