May 4, 2005

Hoffman Remembers Holocaust First-Hand

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Cornell Hillel held the first of two events commemorating those lost in The Holocaust last night in Kaufman Auditorium. The Jewish day of Holocaust commemoration, called Yom HaShoah, is tomorrow, May 5th.

Last night’s program was entitled “Just a Small Town in Poland.” Shiri Sandler, president of STARS, Students for Tolerance, Awareness, and Remebering Survivors of the Holocaust and Genocide, introduced the keynote speaker of the night, Prof. Roald Hoffman, chemistry, and accompanying performer, clarinetist Joel Rubin.

Hoffman and Rubin addressed the audience together, alternating between Hoffman’s stories as a child holocaust survivor and Rubin’s music.

Hoffman opened with the question, “how can one memorialize so many?” and proceeded to relay his tales from Europe during World War II.

In an attempt to prevent the mood of the commemoration from adopting a gloomy tone, Hoffman interjected moments of humor: “we — those who survived — we are here in the land of the free to be as unreasonable as Jews sometimes are.” Moments of levity like this one were juxtaposed with descriptions of what life was like under Soviet rule from 1939 to 1941. Hoffman emphasized that while “life was good for the Jews, it was bad for the Ukrainian nationalists.”

Throughout the presentation, Hoffman interspersed bits of local history. Hoffman was born in 1937 in the town of Zloczow, Poland. He emphasized that the town in which he had been born had been controlled by many different governments, and was therefore renamed frequently.

Rubin would follow Hoffman’s anecdotes with songs on his Clarinet. Counter to what is often associated with the music of the Holocaust, Rubin’s songs were neither sad nor somber. After each song Hoffman would explain a little bit of the history behind the music, as well as the name of the song.

Hoffman went on to describe how “Jews had lived in the same area for thousands of years.” Bringing the story back to the present, he also noted that “the political divisions between Jews at the time were very strong.” These divisions split mainly along the socialist and communist lines due to the influence of the USSR.

In 1941, Germans overtook Hoffman’s town of Zloczow. The Germans “marched in and killed Jews just by shooting them down in the street” he stated. During the German occupation, many of Hoffman’s relatives were killed by the NAZI’s, including his father. Hoffman and his mother were able to escape such a fate through the kindness of a Ukrainian family, “one good man hid us from January, 1943 to June, 1944 when we were freed by the forces of evil, the red army.”

“Eventually we found our way to America in 1949,”Hoffman told the audience optimistically. Near the end of the presentation, Hoffman relayed a passage from the book I Am Jewish Personal Reflections Inspired by the Last Words of Daniel Pearl.

The commemoration ended with Sandler again thanking the Hoffman and Rubin.

Students enjoyed the presentation: “Hoffman’s story was moving and enlightening” said Stephanie Posen ’08.

This final statement was followed by a short prayer, the Jewish Mourner’s Kaddish. Hillel will be holding a candlelight vigil for the public tonight at 7:45 on Ho Plaza.

Archived article by Bryan Wolin
Sun Staff Writer