The screening took only twenty minutes, but when the lights went
up again, the audience still needed a few moments to reflect upon
what they had seen.
Students, faculty and staff from St. John's University had
gathered on the Queens campus with visitors from surrounding
neighborhoods on Tuesday, April 25, to revisit one of history's
darkest moments. Watching scenes from films on the Holocaust, they
witnessed the Nazi assault on European Jewry.
“The images we’ve just seen arouse many emotions,” said Rev.
Patrick Flanagan, C.M., who followed with a discussion of the
Church’s historic stand against anti-Semitism. “There’s the shock
of being overwhelmed, of being desecrated, violated. We ask
questions: How could this have happened? Who was responsible?”
“I suggest,” continued Fr. Flanagan, a theology professor at St.
John’s, “that we need to see these images. We need to convey the
story, over and over again, to feel the shock, the pain, the
sorrow. We need to regroup, to forge a future full of hope.”
That is exactly what St. John’s did at its “Day of Remembrance”
in Council Hall. Sponsored by the Office of Community Relations,
the two-hour event featured film clips, survivor testimonials, an
art exhibition, singing and a candle-lighting ceremony as part of
Jewish Heritage Day at the University.
A Labor of Love
“Today is a labor of love,” said Joseph Sciame, Vice President for
Community Relations, who moderated the event. “Why are we doing
this today? It is in keeping with St. John’s proud Judeo-Christian
heritage, and our long relationship with our Jewish brothers and
Mr. Sciame welcomed the guests -- including some Holocaust
survivors -- on behalf of Rev. Donald J. Harrington, C.M.,
President of St. John’s, who is traveling in Asia. "As a Catholic
university," said Mr. Sciame, "we take this opportunity to reflect
on the past, with hope for the future.”
The Office of Community Relations sponsored the event in
cooperation with the Holocaust Resource Center and Archives of
Queensborough Community College; the Queens Jewish Community
Council; the Queens Jewish Historical society; and the Borough
President's Office. The Office of Community Relations also worked
closely with the Jewish Students Association at St. John’s.
A Prayer for Peace
The event drew more than 100 guests from beyond the University. At
the front of Council Hall, speakers stood at a lectern flanked by
tables and two movie screens. At the rear were bagels, pastries and
coffee donated by Tony Rampone, of the Hollis Foodtown.
Paintings, books and photographs on exhibit were provided by
Michelle Lohmiller, of “Judaica Art Is,” Arthur Flug, Executive
Director of the Holocaust Resource Center at Queensborough and Jeff
Gottlieb, of the Queens Jewish Historical Society.
As part of the remembrance, Mr. Sciame invited several Holocaust
survivors to join him in lighting six candles at the front of the
hall. The candles symbolized the six million Jews exterminated
during the Holocaust.
“We are here to say never again,” declared Moti Fuchs,
Cantor at nearby Hillcrest Jewish Center. “For the free world,
never again. For Jews, never again. For free-thinking people, never
again. No, never again will hate conquer love, or slavery conquer
A Holocaust survivor whose parents the Nazis forcibly relocated
to the ghetto, Mr. Fuchs sang Hebrew “songs of hope.” As he sang
“Zog Nit Keyn Mol” (The Partisan’s Song), a Jewish anthem during
the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Mr. Fuchs invited the audience to join
for the chorus: “Let it be, let it be. Oh God . . . peace is all we
ask, let it be.”
Hate, Mr. Fuchs observed, can only be defeated by the kind of
love he encountered two years ago when meeting Pope John Paul II.
Mr. Fuchs was among 300 rabbis and 13 cantors invited to the
Vatican. “When John Paul was wheeled out,” he recalled, “there was
so much love in his eyes. We felt it when he shook our hands.”
Reliving the Horror
Providing a personal account of the Holocaust, survivor Steven
Berger quoted the Old Testament “Book of Isaiah.” “It starts with
an observation,” he said. “To see the future, we must look
backward. What’s backward is history.”
“Sixty years ago,” he continued, “a madman had the diabolical
idea of mass extermination for an entire people. Since then,
similar ideas have been used to harm other peoples. But there is a
difference between then and now. Then, we weren’t prepared. There
was no precedent for such industrial mass murder. Now we know
better – we have no excuses.”
Then Mr. Berger showed the audience an aging black-and-white
photograph taken at his elementary school graduation in Eastern
Europe. “All our photos, our memories, were wiped out during the
Holocaust,” he said. “But my father had sent this photo to a sister
in the United States. I found this among my aunt’s possessions when
she passed away.”
In the photo, Mr. Berger said, is a childhood friend of his.
“His name was Andrew Goldstein. When we were sent to the ghetto,
the Nazis kept his family behind because they were expert car and
truck mechanics.” Mr. Berger thought Andrew had survived.
“A few years ago,” he continued, “I went back to my hometown, to
visit my grandparents’ graves in the Jewish cemetery. I was shocked
to see my friend, Andrew’s, headstone. The people in the town said
that when the Nazis left, they shot the Goldsteins in a mass grave.
Andrew’s father was the only survivor. He came back to bury his son
in the Jewish cemetery.”
A Commitment to Human Dignity
Fr. Flanagan called the “Day of Remembrance” a defining moment for
St. John’s and its neighbors in Queens. “Today we commemorate a
sacred moment in Jewish history,” he said. “To share this moment
with you in some small way is a privilege.”
In his presentation, Fr. Flanagan reviewed the Church’s history
of opposition to anti-Semitism and discrimination in general. “The
Church is clear,” he said. “We are all created in the image of God.
We all deserve dignity, as do our truths. We come to appreciate the
truth of all when we maintain a dialogue.”
Fr. Flanagan noted the teachings publicly espoused during the
Second Vatican Council. Specifically, he said, the Church in
October, 1965, issued a document entitled “Nostra Aetate” (“In Our
Time”). “In five powerful paragraphs,” he said, “the Church
affirmed that we are truly a global community.”
Among the salient declarations, he noted, were statements
affirming the Church’s condemnation of anti-Semitism and the notion
of deicide, as well as a rejection of the idea that one faith
“We are both of Abraham’s seed,” Fr. Flanagan declared. “We
share the same roots. We cannot be Roman Catholic, or Christian, if
we do not appreciate our Jewish roots.”
At the close of the commemoration, Alevtina Malakova, President
of the Jewish Students Association at St. John’s, led a
question-and-answer session. When someone asked why genocide has
continued in such places as Rawanda and Sarajevo, Ms. Malakova
asked Arthur Flug, of the Holocaust Resource Center, to
“Your question reminds me of a book by Primo Levi,” said Mr.
Flug. In “Survival in Auschwitz,” Mr. Flug explained, Levi, a
Holocaust survivor, recounted the arbitrary cruelty of the Nazis.
At one point, said Mr. Flug, Levi asked a guard why he engaged in
such cruelty. The guard responded, “In Auschwitz, there is no
“When it comes to genocide,” said Mr. Flug, “more and more I
think, there is no why.”
We invite you to share St. John’s effort to commemorate this tragic
event in 20th century history. Please visit our