The program began with a moment of silence and a reading of “El Male Rachamim,” a Jewish funeral prayer.
The Student of the Night Holocaust Memorial Program featured Paul Molnar, a Holocaust survivor, who shared his experience.
About 100 people gathered in the Marshall Student Center on Tuesday evening for the program, organized by the USF Hillel. The event was organized for students to learn more about the Holocaust, as well as to remember those who were affected by it.
Molnar, who now lives in Sarasota, said he grew up as a Jew in Hungary, and did not feel different from his Catholic and Protestant friends. But the German soldiers occupied Hungary in 1944 and forced his family, along with many other Jewish families, into a concentration camp on cattle trains, he said.
Molnar said upon entering Auschwitz, he was separated from his family members, who were killed immediately.
“The food at the camp was terrible,” Molnar said. “The soup was like drinking garbage water and the bread could have been made of anything.”
Molnar said he gave his first meal to a malnourished inmate at the concentration camp.
“This should never happen again,” Molnar said. “You cannot be a bystander. If you hear bad things being said about a particular group of people, make it stop immediately.”
The program featured speakers who represented the various other groups who
were victims of the Holocaust. These groups included political prisoners, resistance fighters and homosexuals.
Molnar said he has spoken about the Holocaust at more than 1,000 events over the past 28 years.
“The victims cannot speak,” Molnar said. “It is my duty to speak for them so they are not forgotten.”
Molnar said he wants young people to get involved in the push for world peace.
“This was a wonderful group of people,” Molnar said. “I believe in peace, and I know you all will see it in your lifetimes.”
Jennifer Giambrone, a freshman majoring in special education, said her experience hearing from a Holocaust survivor was unlike any previous teachings of the Holocaust.
“Regardless of what they teach you in school, nothing compares to hearing it from a survivor,” Giambrone said. “I liked that they didn’t just focus on the Jewish persecution. Lots of groups were affected, and they showed that tonight.”
Malak Fakhoury, a freshman majoring in psychology, said she and Molnar were moved to tears when they spoke with each other after the program. Fakhoury said she worried that the conflict between Israel and Palestine might make Jewish survivors question the amount of sympathy they receive from Arabic people.
“He knew that I was Arabic and so he greeted me in Arabic,” Fakhoury said. “I told him that as a Palestinian, I care about him on a personal level. My heart for his struggles is the same heart that any human would have.”
Fakhoury said she could not have anticipated Molnar’s reply.
“You need to know something,” Molnar said as he pulled Fakhoury down. “What the Israelis are doing to the Palestinians is terrible.”
“It needs to stop,” Molnar said. “We need peace and there will be.”
Brandon Schuster, president of Hillel at USF, said Molnar’s story is still very timely, and he stressed the importance of hearing from Holocaust survivors.
“We are the last generation that will have the opportunity to meet them,” Schuster said. “After that, it will be up to us. Memory without action is empty.”