By: Teegan Macleod
The Jewish Museum of Maryland held a symposium for students to come and speak on topics related to the Holocaust on Sunday, April 9th. More than 30 Goucher students were in attendance. They were from classes taught by Professor Uta Larkey and Martin Shuster which were Literature and Film of the Holocaust class and Ethics After Auschwitz, respectively.
Four Goucher students presented topics at the symposium: Jensen Simmons ‘20, Elyse Pyle ‘18, Madeleine Moss ‘19, and Melissa Michon ‘17.
The first presentation was by Jensen Simmons. It was about Jewish children during the Holocaust who survived by hiding with gentile families. Simmons spoke about the identity crisis these children faced when they had to suppress their Jewish identity.
She focused on two specific stories: Andrew Salamon, a Hungarian Jew born in 1932, and of William H. Donat, a Polish Jew born in 1938. The two stories displayed the different types of experiences that children had during the Holocaust whilst highlighting the similarities in the plight of all of children during the Holocaust.
The second presenter was Elyse Pyle. She focused on the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust, primarily the Roma and the handicapped victims. First, she focused on the lack of documentation regarding the actual number of Roma that were killed and first hand accounts of their experiences during the Holocaust.
Pyle then talked about the physically and mentally disabled victims. She spoke about how it was hard to determine who among the population was physically or mentally disabled. She added that the Nazis saw them as a blight on their genetic purity. She spoke about how the handicapped were the first victims of the Holocaust, how they were used as experiments for what would later become the gas chambers and how roughly 200,000 disabled people were killed by the Nazis between 1941-45.
Building off of that presentation, Madeleine Moss spoke about the Aktion T-4, otherwise known as the T-4 Program or Euthanasia Program. The T-4 Program implemented by the Nazis from 1933 until the end of the war. She began by showing a clip from a propaganda film “Opfer der Vergangenheit” which translates into “Victims of the Past.”
She broke down the clip showcasing how the filmmakers used beautiful landscapes and contrast it with the dark images of disabled patients. She mentioned the different misleading facts from the clip, including that the clip stated that the number of disabled people in the population would eventually outnumber the Aryan people and how the shots of patients were really of inmates from a prison. Finally, she spoke about the beginnings of the T-4 Program and how they came about from a family petitioning for a “mercy killing” of their disabled child.
The next presenter, Melissa Michon, spoke about Primo Levi and his contribution to Holocaust history. Primo Levi was a Jewish Italian chemist who, from February 21, 1944 to January 18, 1945, was imprisoned at Auschwitz. After Levi’s time at Auschwitz, he devoted his life to writing about his experiences.
Levi died in 1987. It is disputed whether or not it was suicide. Michon made a point of noting that Levi was a survivor many times over. He was not just a survivor of Auschwitz, he was a survivor of PTSD and depression.
The final presentation was from Andrew Altman, a high school junior who built a scale model replica of Auschwitz out of wood which is currently on display at the museum. He detailed his process building the replica as well as speaking about his great-grandfather to whom the replica is dedicated.
Altman’s great-grandfather was a woodworker and his life was spared during the Holocaust because of his abilities. He wanted to create this replica as a tribute to his great-grandfather as well as using it as an opportunity to get closer to his great-grandfather through a common skill. The replica took around five to six months to complete and he worked on it on a ping-pong table in his basement.
The symposium was an interesting look at the different facets of the Holocaust. It gave an idea of the sheer scope of knowledge to be gained about the historical event. The Jewish Museum of Maryland is currently showing the exhibit entitled Remembering Auschwitz which provides the history of the town where Auschwitz was located as well as looking into what went on in the camps.
(Photo Credit: Jewish Museum of Baltimore)