COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The South Carolina Holocaust Council held a commemoration of the liberation of Auschwitz, led by local leaders on Tuesday.
The event was held at the University of South Carolina Pastides Alumni Center on Senate Street.
The event featured several of the state’s leaders including Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, Governor Henry McMaster, Fort Jackson Commanding General Brigadier General Milford Beagle, Jr., State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman, among several faith leaders. The event began with a powerful opening prayer from Reverend S.C. Manning of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston.
“Help us to remember that words and actions really do matter,” said Rev. Manning. “Help us remember to use words of love and hope instead of hate.”
Speakers focused on the power of words of love and hope over hate as the world recognized International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, January 27. This one marked 75 years since the Soviet Army liberated the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where more than 1 million Jewish prisoners died during the Holocaust.
The keynote speaker was Mr. Elisha Wiesel, whose father famously survived Auschwitz and wrote the memoir, “Night.” Wiesel talked about the power of history and the importance of facts as well as the significance of Holocaust education in a world where some people still deny it happened. He said we have to get tough on racism and antisemitism.
"It's unimaginable that it's happening and it's happening too much,” Wiesel said. “Whether it's to churches or to synagogues, hatred is something that we are growing to get accustomed to. But we can't. We can't get accustomed to it. We have to fight it."
The event also featured an 87-year-old speaker, Judith Evans, who survived the Holocaust. She described seeing her mother carted off in a police car for the last time when she was just eight years old. She spent the entirety of the Holocaust in Germany, being brainwashed in Nazi-run schools and sidelining her Jewish identity to survive. She later emigrated to Israel and has spent most of her life there. While she was not inside a concentration camp, she knows what it was like to see hate firsthand.
“It's not a horror of a concentration camp,” Evans said. “It's a horror to live as a German... as a Jewish girl to live in Germany and to be brainwashed.”
The closing benediction was delivered by Rabbi Jonathan Case, who is the rabbi at Beth Shalom synagogue in Columbia. He recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, a traditional Jewish prayer that has been said for 1,000 years by Jews across the world. He also spoke about fighting antisemitism in a world that seems to be offering a place for its resurgence.
“May we fear G-d more than people,” Rabbi Case said. “When persecutors or those who preach violence rise, may we fear not standing up to them more than we fear speaking out again the vitriol.”
The commemoration committee was chaired by Governor McMaster and Lt. Governor Pamela Evette. Honorary co-vice chairs included Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman and Mayor Steve Benjamin.