When the brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi, an international Jewish fraternity, perceived a silence on their Oakland campus, several young men took action.
“Initially I had this thought over the summer. I have had the experience of listening to Holocaust speakers in the past, and I have found it powerful and moving. I didn’t see anything on campus [involving a survivor] so I wanted to spearhead that on campus,” explained Seth Appel, a sophomore at the University of Pittsburgh and the fraternity’s philanthropy chair.
So last week, Appel and his fellow fraternity brothers welcomed Holocaust survivor Sam Gottesman to the O’Hara Student Center in Oakland for an evening discussion with college students.
After Appel’s brief introduction, Gottesman spoke for roughly 45 minutes before answering a half-hour’s worth of questions from the nearly 100 attendees.
As powerful as Gottesman’s comments were, the survivor’s direct engagement with students during the question and answer session proved most beneficial, said Andrew Zale, president of AEPi Pitt.
What that portion of the program accomplished was to illustrate “the singular impact” that the Holocaust had on individuals, explained Zale.
“There’s a different perspective than in class and an academic setting versus hearing firsthand experiences of how it affected [survivors’] beliefs and families,” said Appel.
For those who had never heard a survivor prior to the AEPi event, Gottesman’s story demonstrated the “lasting effects,” added the Pitt sophomore.
Part of what drove the brothers’ desire for a Holocaust-related program was a recognition of disdainful behavior.
“Anti-Semitism is on the rise and we can’t hide from it,” said Zale.
“As a member of the Jewish community, I’ve seen people who have denied the Holocaust and taunted Holocaust survivors, and to hear these stories [like Gottesman’s] reaffirms truth in education. It’s very powerful,” remarked Appel.
Moving forward, the brothers would like to welcome more survivors and offer additional Holocaust-related programming.
In the spring, the fraternity is considering holding a walk to remember event. The tentative plan is that over the course of 24 consecutive hours representatives of AEPi Pitt will stand on a street corner in Oakland and read out the names of those people who died in the Holocaust, said Zale.
“We are really keen on making the Holocaust and events about education part of our chapter,” he said. “Putting ourselves out there and having people be more culturally cognizant is part of our duty as brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi.”
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.