SMU Community Honors the Memory of Holocaust Victims

January 28, 2011 by · Comments Off 

By Lee Gleiser

Yit’gadal v’yitkadash, the Hebrew words of the Mourner’s Kaddish, the Jewish prayer to honor the dead, resounded through the room of silent participants.

More than 30 SMU faculty, staff, students and community members gathered noon on Thursday to mark the liberation of Auschwitz – Birkenau by the Red Army 66 years ago.

The Embrey Human Rights Program and the Office of the Chaplain at SMU put together this memorial to commemorate the day declared by the United Nations as International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

A dimly lit room in the Hughes Trigg Student Center featured flickering candles illuminating black and white photographs of Holocaust victims and the sites of their suffering.

A large screen displayed a slide show of crematoriums and gas chambers witnessed by those who had recently returned from a Christmas break trip to Auschwitz with Human Rights Professor Rick Halperin.

“These pictures don’t even come close to the impact you have when you are standing there the day after Christmas,” Halperin said.

SMU Chaplain Steve Rankin called the participants to the “holy task” of never forgetting those who had suffered and perished. Halperin then invited everyone to consider traveling with him on his annual journey to the sites where “four million people were obliterated for no fault of their own, just because of who they were.”

Halperin said there are four lessons to take away from the event. The first is the duty of remembrance of the 11 million people who died, each of whom had “a name, a life, dreams, hopes, an identity.” The second is to prevent it from ever happening again in a world where hate lives on. The third lesson is to speak up and overcome indifference and the fourth is to give a voice to those who can’t speak for themselves.

“It is not enough to remember,” Halperin said. “The key to a better world is commitment to act.”

Rabbi Heidi Coretz, director of SMU Hillel, lit a memorial candle and recited the Mourner’s Kaddish. The room was absolutely silent. When the prayer ended, there were hushed tones and whispers as people talked among themselves, viewed the slide show or sat in silent reflection.

The participants were of all ages, all races, all backgrounds, and all religious affiliations, including students in their 20s and faculty and staff in their 60s. Some had come from campus. Others had come from as far away as Fort Worth.

Gil Amsellem was born in Israel and had moved to Texas when he was 13. A recent graduate of UT Arlington, Amsellem drove from Fort Worth to attend the event.

“It is very important for me to keep my Jewish faith as much as I can,” Amsellem said.

Katie Perkins, a junior at SMU majoring in English and political science, came because she feels “it is really important to show support and reverence for what happened and to remember. It is hard to believe people can be so cruel and unfeeling.”

SMU has honored International Holocaust Remembrance Day annually for the past five years. When asked if he was pleased with the event and the turnout, Halperin responded, “The only failure of this event would have been not to have done it.”

Those who attended arrived in silence but were called not to be silent as they left.

The Embrey Human Rights Program will be hosting a trip to Holocaust sites and memorials throughout Germany March 11-20, 2011. Those interested may contact Rick Halperin at or Sherry Aikman at