SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT: BC hosts Holocaust education program

By Noell Barnidge
Benedictine Military School hosted the Hate Ends Now Cattle Car: Stepping In And Out Of Darkness tour which, in conjunction with the Savannah Jewish Educational Alliance, visited BC’s campus Jan. 5-6. BC served as the hub for all Savannah Chatham County Public School System students chosen to participate in the immersive 360-degree multimedia Holocaust education program.

Benedictine senior Joshua Sussman was among numerous BC Cadets, monks, administrators, faculty, and staff who experienced a 20-minute video presentation inside a ShadowLight cattle car, a replica of the ones used during World War II to forcibly deport Jews and other targeted groups to concentration camps, labor camps, and extermination camps throughout Europe from 1941-44. The wooden freight car was intended to transport cattle. Instead, up to 150 people were crammed into the locked, windowless box car and traveled for an average of four days without food, water, restroom facilities, or the ability to sit. Many deportees died in the cattle cars.

Sussman, who has visited the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., said the cattle car exhibit at BC was incredibly realistic. He and others were seemingly transported in time via the immersive multimedia experience, which heightens participants’ sensory understanding through personal stories, music, sounds, and video testimonials of Holocaust survivors.

“I understand a lot of non-Jewish people haven’t necessarily been able to see some of the stuff I’ve seen,” Sussman said. “I’ve been to the Holocaust Museum. I’ve had those talks. And so, maybe, this is their first time seeing something like that. I hope it really educates them as to what the Jews really went through not so long ago, and they really can understand that if they were in that position, just like the Jews, that the Jews that were put in that (cattle) car, they were normal people just like you and me.”

Antisemitism, the hatred or prejudice against Jews, was a foundation of Nazi ideology and widespread throughout Europe. Nazi Germany’s persecution of Jews evolved and became increasingly more radical from 1933-45, resulting in the mass murder of six million Jews.

During World War II, Nazis and their allies killed nearly two out of every three European Jews by using deadly living conditions, brutal mistreatment, mass shootings and gassings, and specially designed killing centers. The Holocaust era began in January 1933 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power in Germany. It ended in May 1945, when the Allied Powers defeated Nazi Germany in World War II. The Nazis falsely accused Jews of causing Germany’s social, economic, political, and cultural problems. The Nazis blamed the Jews for Germany’s defeat in World War I (1914-18).

Today, there are still genocides and mass killings occurring throughout the world. There are extremists in the U.S. who blatantly engage in activities influenced by bigotry. The Holocaust teaches us to pay attention to human behaviors that pose a threat to our democracy. Paying attention to these signs will help motivate us to explore ways to prevent future tragedies against humanity.

BC theology teacher Rabbi Eli Lob, who also is affiliated with the BBJ Synagogue and Southern NCSY, said the cattle car exhibit is important because it allows visitors to reflect on modern-day issues of antisemitism and hate, and how they relate to the Holocaust.

“It’s empowering,” Lob said as he looked at the World War II-era cattle car replica in BC’s new parking lot. “My relatives didn’t die for nothing. It’s the lessons we take from it, that we have to do all we can to raise more compassion and try to prevent hatred. (People) need to see how far hatred can take people and they need to learn that we need to focus on preventing hatred and building up love and compassion. It’s important to see how far hatred can go in order not to get stuck in the hatred, but in order to move forward and building a positive future.

“This is a replica of the cattle car that was used to bring Jews and other targeted minorities to concentration camps in the Holocaust,” Lob continued. “There’s a difference between learning about the Holocaust and partaking in an immersive exhibit about the Holocaust. You walk into the cattle car, you’ll see the footprints on the floor. You’ll be surrounded by stories from the survivors and the history of the Holocaust. This is very personal to me. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors. My grandmother lost her grandparents, her father, and her brother in the Holocaust. My grandfather lost his grandparents, his parents, his siblings, and nieces and nephews in the Holocaust. To me, the Holocaust is a reality. It shocks me that people can deny that the Holocaust ever happened. This is extremely important for me. We’re here to educate people about the horrors of the Holocaust. We’re here to empower people to take a stand against hate, against antisemitism, and all forms of bigotry. We’re here to raise an awareness of compassion and love for all individuals.”

After a 20-minute video presentation inside the cattle car, students attended a seminar in BC’s Alumni Hall that also featured vintage memorabilia and artifacts from the Holocaust.

“What we try to do with our exhibit is make sure that we’re relating it (to people),” said Tara Silberg, lead educator with ShadowLight. “The Holocaust happened, and that’s the main focus of our exhibit. But there are so many different forms of hate today. What happened was really just a targeting of different groups, and there are so many different ways that people can be targeted. So (we are) bringing it back to ‘How do you feel? How do you see hate today? And what can you do?’ so no matter what your race, religion, so on, ‘How can you stand up?’”

Benedictine Military School Headmaster Fr. Frank Ziemkiewicz, O.S.B., said its is extremely important for each generation to study the Holocaust.

“I am grateful to the JEA and Rabbi Lob for coordinating this project,” said Ziemkiewicz, who participated in the cattle car exhibit. “We at BC are grateful that we could serve as hosts for this display. Beyond a doubt, I have to believe that it broadened the understanding of the Holocaust experience to a far greater scope of our students and the students of Chatham County who would otherwise not have had so visceral an experience of the Holocaust. This goes far beyond just the textbook experience. This is about as close as you could come to the experience of a Holocaust victim that we are likely to see short of experiencing a concentration camp itself of experiencing the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C.

“It only reinforces the wisdom of Gen. Eisenhower, who insisted upon the photographing of the Holocaust victims so that not only that generation, but future generations, might experience the horror of what that regime was capable of," Ziemkiewicz continued. "And it is a warning for all of us as to what regimes may be capable of if not dealt with directly. The JEA and Rabbi Lob, and all associated with it, did us a favor by bringing the experience to us at BC and, again, we are just grateful that we could serve as host for this experience.”