The History Lab hosted an event to commemorate International Holocaust Remembrance Day, featuring a keynote presentation by former Brock President Jack Lightstone. The Niagara-based community organization is a partnership between the Niagara Military Museum, Seedling for Change in Society and Environment, Elizabeth Vlossak and Maria del Carmen Suescun Pozas.
Lightstone, currently a Professor of History at Brock, presented his speech entitled the making of ‘the other’ and its social and political consequences: lessons from the historical experience of the Jewish people, which sparked a substantial question and answer period, allowing community members the chance to discuss their thoughts and questions prompted by Lightstone’s speech.
According to Lightstone, otherization of Jewish people has been historically significant dating as far back as the fourth century and has led to the systemic discrimination and genocide of Jewish people, including during the Holocaust and persecution under Roman and Byzantine rule. Lightstone spoke at length about the academic aspects and historical events that led to the Holocaust, noting that the violence against the Jewish people has gone on for over 1,500 years.
Throughout the event, speakers made note of Holocaust deniers, those who believe the massacre did not take place. Lightstone attributes this to the unimaginable scope of the genocide combined with anti-Semitic rhetoric and prejudices — over six million Jews were murdered.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day was created by the United Nations as part of a resolution to increase education about the Holocaust. Its date, January 27, was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex — a camp approximately 1.3 million were deported to, of which 1.1 million were murdered. Nearly one million of these people were Jewish.
Vlossak, an associate professor with the Department of History at Brock, also addressed the current discrimination faced by Jewish people, noting the October shooting that took 11 lives in a Pittsburgh synagogue, motivated by anti-Semitism, as an abhorrent example of discrimination and violence Jewish people face today.
“We are trying to grow the appreciation of history across the Niagara region in the sense that we want to make Niagara feel it is part of the globe,” said Suescun Pozas, who is also an associate professor in the Department of History. “We want Niagarans to recover and to reclaim the connection they have with the rest of the planet, with peoples around the world.”
“As historians we know what happened in the Holocaust. As historians we know that there are deniers. As historians we know that younger generations are losing that valuable memory,” said Suescun Pozas. “I firmly believe that there is a community here who has a voice but I think that we rarely read about them. We rarely hear about what they do, who it is that they are, where the Jewish cemeteries are, so how is it possible that here in Niagara we have so little knowledge about what the Jewish community is doing?”
A recent survey by Claims Conference found that many young people in the U.S. either did not know about the Holocaust or did not understand the magnitude of its impact. Of millennials surveyed, eight per cent said they did not think they had heard of the Holocaust before. Over 30 per cent of all surveyed and over 40 per cent of millennials believe that the number of Jews murdered was two million — a far cry from the actual figure of over six million. In the face of these startling statistics, Suescun Pozas recommends students interact with others to learn more about Jewish culture.
“Talk to elders. Talk to adults. Ask questions. If you know where the synagogue is, the congregation is, walk up to the congregation. Go inside. Ask questions,” said Suescun Pozas, “The history lab believes in human contact; human connection comes first. Yes, of course, you have the professors in the history department but that would be on the margins. Get to know your community, and not just at Brock.”