CCJU Hosted Holocaust Memorial

News Story: October 5, 2008

  Holocaust survivor Gertrude Sheppard placed a white rose in honor of those who died during the CCJU sponsored Memory and Legacy exhibit.

Martin Schiller forever lost his innocence at age 6 when Nazi troops corralled his family into crowded box cars and hauled them and thousands of others for three days to the German concentration camp, Buchenwald. He left six years later upon the liberation of the camp by the U.S. Army an “old man at the age of 12,” who had spent half of his life “dodging death at every turn.”

At a time in life when most boys are learning about sports, attending school, and exploring the world around them, Schiller saw his fellow Polish Jews hanged, shot, stacked in piles, and was notified that his father had been killed. Each day was a struggle for survival and each brought unspeakable horror.

Schiller and several speakers shared their stories of survival during a Wednesday afternoon ceremony introducing the New Haven Holocaust Memorial’s traveling Memory and Legacy exhibit. The ceremony was sponsored by the Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding (CCJU) of Sacred Heart University.

Schiller, a 75-year-old Fairfield resident, read excerpts from his memoir, “Bread, Butter, and Sugar: A Boy’s Journey through the Holocaust and Post-War Europe.” He was one of eight survivors at the ceremony, which provided audience members with multiple first-hand accounts of the savagery imposed on the Jewish people by the Nazis.Alongside of survivors, Ib Jorgenson, a 16 year-old member of the infamous Danish Resistance Movement, witnessed to the role of the rescuer in the Holocaust. The Danish Resistance organized rescue operations which helped thousands of Danish Jews to safety in Sweden.

The exhibit contains several testimonials from New Haven survivors that are displayed on panels draped in the image of barbed-wire to evoke the memory of the Nazis concentration camps. On that structure is the story of the development of the New Haven Holocaust Memorial, which was built 30 years by Jews and non-Jews in New Haven and now faces a need for refurbishment. The exhibit also features the artistic expressions of students at the Jewish High School in New Haven (MAKOM) who participated in a year-long program known as Adopt A Survivor. Sacred Heart is the first Catholic university to host the exhibit that tells the story of the first Holocaust memorial to be built on public land in North America.

It is important for our students to remember the Holocaust and to understand its causes, including anti-Semitism, racism and prejudice. The challenges of present and future require that we teach about the past and its lessons for preventing genocide according to Ann Heekin, the director of CCJU.

“The unfathomable did, in fact, happen, and our memory is our best defense that it will never happen again,” she said.

The Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding was established to improve Christian-Jewish relations through a dialogue that is based on the knowledge and truth about God and one another.Rabbi Joseph Ehrenkranz founded the Center with Sacred Heart University President, Dr. Anthony Cernera, after a November, 1990 meeting with Pope John Paul II during which the Pope explained his experience as a student when the Nazis invaded Poland. The Polish Pope had seen many of his professors and fellow students gunned down by the Nazis and vowed to give his life to God and to do whatever he could to help the Jewish people.

“I think you’re the best friend the Jewish people ever had,” Ehrenkranz, director of the CCJU, told him in 1990. “I’m in my 9th decade, and over the years, I’ve met some miraculous people. I don’t know that I’ve met anyone as great or as important to the world as John Paul II.”

“Education in the Holocaust is crucial if we are to become witnesses to the future and help make the words ‘never again’ a reality,” Dr. Heekin said.

The Memory and Legacy exhibit will be open to the public until Oct. 29.