Posted in Community, New Perspectives

Remembering History: Visiting the Holocaust Memorial Center

holocaust-memorial-center

As a secondary social studies education major, history has always been a topic of fascination to me. History gives us all a chance to learn from what went right in society, what went wrong, and how we can continue to learn from one another. Today, if there is one thing I learned, it’s how we each have a chance to turn a world of hate into love.

With Central Michigan University’s Residence Life program, Resident Assistants, Multicultural Advisors, and residents got the chance to visit the Holocaust Memorial Center in Farmington Hills, Michigan. This excursion is meant to help us all learn something new about the world, about social justice issues in society and the past, and the experience helps us relate what happened to how it affects the world today.

The day started off by being broken up into touring groups as Central Michigan University had a really big group there overall. Our tour guide sat us down in front of the memorial pictured above her and explained the meaning behind it. All of the countries affected by the Holocaust are named up on the memorial. However, these are the countries that had people die in the Holocaust whether they were Jewish, had a disability, LGBTQ+, and more. The numbers of people that died were reflected under the country names.

In addition to this, there were a list of the concentration camps next to the countries overall. A lot of the names, I have heard of before from visiting other museums. But what caught my eye in the middle of this area was an eternal flame: a flame that never goes out to keep the memory of the affected alive. The tour guide explained that many people believe for a soul to die, it dies twice. The first time is when a person actually dies. The second time is when the last person to have memories with the person dies. This is why the flame is kept lit because it is important for history’s sake and because of this event that we do not forget the people who went through such tragedies. So, we make sure we keep their souls alive and in our memory.

From here, the tour guide walked us through the historical exhibit where we learned about the history of Judaism. We learned how this religion was one of the first ones to have a monotheistic God, which means one god. What this did was create anti-semitism for years as people saw the Jewish religion as a disgrace, or as the “different” religion. Eventually, this inspired the events of the Holocaust.

After this, we learned about the history of Adolf Hitler along with the uprising of the Nazi Party in Germany. We learned of the Nazi agenda, which consisted of three things: To create a superior race of Germans with blonde hair and blue eyes, to exterminate all of the Jewish people, and to expand as much as possible to be the dominant society. However, what we saw is that Hitler along with other officials changed policies one step at a time, making subtle changes in the ways that people thought, and changes in the way that people viewed the Jewish people. Hitler even said once that by using the press as an enemy, it could be easy to lie to big groups of people and make change. We learned how even though Hitler had an agenda, it took a group of people to make it happen. This is where things started to get emotional.

At this point, we learned about how the Jewish people were treated in these camps. From being worked to death, to marching to death, and even being sent to death camps to die right away, over six million people were exterminated from the Holocaust. What put this into more perspective is when we walked into this room with a very narrow path, and six video screens. The tour guide told us that if the images were too disturbing, we could come down to the end of the hallway with her. You see, General Eisenhower went into Europe to these concentration camps. He decided if you were not there, you could not understand it. That is why he and his crew decided to record what they saw with videos: and these videos came up on the screens.

The dead bodies of Jewish people who died in the Holocaust kept playing on one screen to another. Bodies piled on top of one another, bodies so skinny that their bones were easy to see, bodies that had eyes out of the socket holes. The only thing I could do along with everyone else is look in shock and disbelief. Eventually, after moments of silence and shock, we continued on. This was one of the most scarring things I have ever seen and I still have the images in my head.

From here, we learned about the end of the war. The Nuremberg trials occurred with only a dozen people being sentenced to death. There were a total of twenty two people tried at this time as well, but not too much more from there. But one of the most surprising things I found out is that after the war, Holocaust survivors were helped out to be rehabilitated back into society. At this point, there was a huge increase in babies born. The reason why is because at this point, love had gotten so many people through the tragedies they faced. This was something I did not hear much about, but it made me happy to know that love was a catalyst to helping so many people to survive by giving them something to live for as they endured horrible conditions.

Finally, we looked over to our left to see a video screen along with a clock. The number on this clock was over 100 million or so. Every nineteen seconds, this huge number went up by one as every nineteen seconds, someone dies from genocide around the world. This huge number was a number of all the genocides committed since the end of the Holocaust. The fact that this number is such a high rate overall shocked me along with everyone else. Even after such a tragic event, hatred still occurs in the world today.

At the end of all of this, we got to hear about the Holocaust from a different perspective: The perspective of a survivor. She stood at the front of an auditorium as we all walked in. Her name was Rae and she kept on asking us what our majors were, intrigued to hear more about each one and to see the diversity in the room. After we all sat down, she began to share her story. When the war began in 1939, the Germans evacuated her family from Poland and moved them over to the U.S.S.R, which made them refugees. At one point, the Russians essentially imprisoned her family and others to an area in northern Russia where the family everyday had to complete different labor tasks. Eventually, they returned to Poland when the war ended, but they realized all of their family from Poland was practically dead and did not have much to offer. The family made the decision to try and flee over to the United States in 1946. However, tensions were still high, making it hard for the family to escape. They had to sneak over boarders illegally to attempt this. However, during one of the trips, her parents were killed, leaving her and her siblings (four others) to be orphans as they escaped to America. Finally, they made it to Detroit in 1948. She then told us about her family today and how many of them graduated college including herself, she showed us her siblings later on in life, and she talked about her late husband who was also a Holocaust survivor. She told us so much about her life, we all could not help but stand and clap for her at the end thanking her for her time and the opportunity to hear from here.

One big thing that she told us at the end is that America provided her the opportunity to work hard in life and essentially gave her a chance to be successful. She also mentioned that in some ways, America has gotten better about things, but has gotten worse about things. The biggest pieces of advice she gave us were the following: 1. Do not be afraid to work hard. And 2. Choose to spread love over hate in this world.

This leads me to reflect on the bigger piece of things: what could I walk away and say I learned overall? What stuck with me most? From this, I would have to say the meaning of empathy, as well as the difference between privilege and oppression in society.

In regards to empathy, it was amazing to hear about the history of the Holocaust from more of an emotional view with some facts incorporated. None of us knew what it was like to go through such horrific experiences in life. However, the stories shared, the imagery, and the intentionality with everything in this museum made us feel empathy for all of the people who were affected by tragedy in life.

If there is one idea I want you all to take away from this, it is the following right here: the difference between privilege and oppression. Privilege is a special right or advantage available to a group of people in society. An example of this could be a privilege of being part of a majority religion, being part of a wealthier class, etc. Now compare this with oppression. Oppression is the prolonged cruel or unjust treatment towards other people based off of traits or privileges. Essentially, there is a bridge between privilege and oppression. When people notice their privilege in society, they can oppress others and hurt other people because not all people have the same advantages, or privileges, in life. This brings up a huge moral to all of this: We all need to take a look at who we are, what we believe, how we operate, and need to choose to spread love over hate.

Events like this one in life are tragic to even think about. I still cannot even fathom some of things I saw or heard about. However, instead of being a bystander in life and not do anything when others are being oppressed, go up to the oppressed individual and show them empathy. Let them know you are there for them to help them, love them, and be with them even when the world is not. This is something I hope you all can take away from reading this today: Choose to love other hate.

This is how we can stop these events from happening again…

 

-Michael Greco

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Posted in Community

Standing United: My Dance United Experience

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“Alone we can do so little; Together, we can do so much.” – Helen Keller

When I first got the email asking if I wanted to be a part of Dance United, I felt a mixture of nerves and worry. I looked at the detail again and again, contemplating if I should participate or not. Dance United involved the opportunity to fundraise for United Way of Isabella and Gratiot County by promotion on social media, through the actual Dance United event that took place on Thursday, November 10th, and by performing a dance number. Imagine that… me…. DANCING! The last time I remembered dancing was when I was in high school musical theatre four years ago. Even then, I remember being the person who was barely coordinated with two left feet. My dancing skills could be compared to the first episode of this season’s Walking Dead: Shocking to the point where people wanted to quickly forget. I did not think I could do it, nor have the time for it.

And now, time for a dance joke about myself:

-How many dance teachers does it take for me to perform one move right?

Answer: Five…Six…Seven…Eight!

But then, I sat down and really thought to myself: “What do I have to lose? I dance for a few minutes, and I can help out the community that has given back so much to me. I cannot pass this up.” So quickly, before I changed my mind, I replied back to the student coordinator and told them I would accept and dance for Dance United. Luckily enough, my partner, Shelby Harris, a staff member in Wheeler Hall on campus, accepted as well. That made the process easier as her and I knew each other already, which definitely takes off the pressure. Now that I look back at that moment, I can definitely say I do not know what I got myself into: and I mean that in the most positive way!

Dance United was an absolute blast! Over the summer, I went on about my regular life working in Chicago and taking a break from school. The moment I got back to school, I realized that I would soon have to start learning my dance with Shelby. Within a few weeks, Shelby and I were blessed with the amazing opportunity of meeting our choreographer, Anna Wager. Not only is she currently a student, but she works with the dance team and was also a part of Dance United a year before us. From the first practice, Anna, Shelby and I truly began to bond. We kept on telling each other so many inside jokes, we could probably write a thesaurus of jokes so you all could understand what we meant by each one. Although we would get off task, joke around, and goof off, all three of us stayed focus. The first practice, we started to test our skills and talk about what kind of music we wanted for the performance. One of the first songs Anna put on to warm us up with was Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars, which is a contagious song. As Shelby and I started dancing, Anna’s mind created a vision of extraordinary measures. She immediately asked us how we felt about the song, and we were on board to use that as our song to dance to.

Next practice, we started to get to work. Anna found an amazing remixed version of the song while Shelby and I began to show off our dancing skills. The funny part was even when Shelby and I were joking around about dance moves, Anna would look at us and say “Wait, that works well! Include that in the dance!” Well, that’s the reason why ultimately, I ended up shaking my butt in front of thousands of people. However, I do not regret it. The way we all worked together was unforgettable and indescribable. Not only did we have time to talk about real life and really get deep with each other, but we really got to learn so much from one another. Honestly, without Anna, Shelby and I would not have been able to pull off such amazing stunts and moves. I have never in my life tutted or knew what tutting was until Anna and Shelby told me about it. Because of them, I feel like my two left feet have left and now I stand more confident in myself.

But through all of this self learning and relationship building, the greatest thing we have done through all of this is create a major impact on the community. Shelby, Anna, and myself were able to be one of the highest fundraising teams for the students with over $800 raised. Hours before the performance, Shelby, Anna, and I were able to get over $200 fundraised within a few hours, helping make a huge difference in Isabella and Gratiot county. For those of you who do not know, around 23% of children in this county we fundraised for live in poverty. It only takes $26 per person to help these people in poverty have food and the resources they need. With everyone’s help and with the collaboration of other teams, we are all about to raise $47,846 for the community! What a tremendous way to help make a difference.

I really have to thank Shelby and Anna for being such amazing people I have been able to get close with and truly call friends. Thank you, as well, for putting up with all my “Uptown Funk” puns and jokes (I know they are old now, but I will still squeeze out as many jokes as possible). Also, I want to thank Lucie Sertich and Tom Olver for the opportunity to let us put ourselves out there, and for the major opportunity to help benefit our community. It is truly great to know and see the difference makes. Finally, thanks to everyone who helped donate and fundraise for our teams, for other teams, and who came to support ours and others teams at the Dance United event. Words cannot describe how happy it made us to know you helped us support the community.

Overall, this experience helped me learn so much. Not only can I feel confident dancing and performing more in front of people, but I also continued to realize how great it is to help out others. This service may not have been as hands on with helping the people of impact as my past experiences have been, but it was great to know that what I did will help and go back into the community. That is why in the end, I challenge you.

I challenge you to go and find a way in your area to help someone. I challenge you to step outside the box and take risks if it means you will help out others. I challenge you to stand in front of people and show them your heart if it means you can help benefit people who need help. And last but not least, I challenge you to live United. No matter what happens, I know I am ready to put on my dance shoes and start practicing for next year. I hope to see you on the stage with me.