Holocaust survivor shares experiences in Holocaust Remembrance Day event

Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth speaks of the historical timeline of the Hungarian Holocaust to an audience of around 170 students, staff and community members on April 8 in the Baker Pattillo Grand Ballroom and on Zoom.

A Holocaust survivor from Hungary spoke in the Holocaust Remembrance Day event created by the SFA Hillel April 8 in the Baker Pattillo Student Center. 

Dr. Zsuzsanna Ozsváth has a Ph.D. in German Langauge and Literature and is a professor emerita of literature and history. She was also a concert pianist. However, she said all of her accomplishments are nothing compared to spreading awareness of the history of the Holocaust. 

“We selected [Ozsváth] as our speaker because she is a very influential person,” Jade Gordon, a junior political science major from Wylie and president of SFA Hillel, said. “Not only is she a survivor of the Hungarian Holocaust, but she also started the Holocaust Studies program at the University of Texas at Dallas and has written many books and articles, including her personal memoir, ‘When the Danube Ran Red.’”

At the event, Ozsváth spoke on the general history of the Hungarian Holocaust, addressed anti-Semitism in the United States and told her personal experience living through the Holocaust. 

“What we have to learn from [the Holocaust] is that we have to study the details, so that we understand what can happen if we are not terribly cautious and know that we can’t hate people for their religion, or their blood, or their looks, or their hair or their whatever,” Ozsváth said during the question-and-answer portion of the event. “If you don’t like someone’s behavior, then don’t be a friend of his or her. But, certainly, don’t speculate on that person’s behalf.”

This event is the first of its kind in SFA history, according to Dr. Flóra Faragó, associate professor in the School of Human Sciences. 

“We have not had an official SFA-wide Holocaust Remembrance Day, which some other names for it are ‘commemoration’ or ‘Yom HaShoah,’” Faragó said. “‘Yom’ means ‘day’ in Hebrew; ‘HaShoah’ is the Hebrew word for ‘Holocaust.’ Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Remembrance Day is one and the same thing. We’ve never had a university-wide, sort of like memorial, commemoration, and we’ve never had a Holocaust speaker come to campus who spoke to the entire university.”

Along with Ozsváth speaking at the event, the audience members were also asked to decorate butterflies to commemorate the children murdered during the Holocaust and to use them as a reminder of the historical event. These paper butterflies will be placed near the Chick-fil-a in the Baker Pattillo Student Center. 

“Holocaust Remembrance Day is important to me because, as a Jew, I share a collective history with all the Jews before and after me,” Gordon said. “It was the Jewish people, my people, that went through the Holocaust and I personally feel that it is my responsibility to pass on that story.”

Ozsváth said she is “not sure there is a lesson” to learn from this story exactly but, instead, a reminder. 

“I think that what I try to tell is that there were these things taking place that were unimaginable for us today,” Ozsváth said. “However, people were accumulated and badly treated in the camps."

Ozsváth said that what took place at the camps makes the Holocaust different then other more recent discrimination. 

"Whichever minority group [is] badly treated or horribly treated, it is not compared to Auschwitz, to gas, to six million people, to put every single newborn into the gas chamber, to put every single pregnant woman into the gas chamber [or] to put everyone who is over 55 in the gas chamber," Ozsváth said.

This event is significant to Faragó “as a descendant of Holocaust survivors,” an advocate for anti-Semitism and in a global sense as well. 

“Taking it way beyond Jews and anti-Semitism, I think this event, at large, to me symbolizes not shoving the dirty past under the rug,” Faragó said. “Whether we are talking about slavery, anti-Black racism, homophobia, misogyny and sexism, all of these issues, including ant-Semitism, have existed in the U.S., and in the world, really for centuries and for millennia."

Faragó also said that these discriminatory issues are not only prevalent in history but currently. 

"An event like this symbolizes in 2021 that these issues of social justice, issues of genocide and people being targeted for their identities are very timely and relevant topics," Faragó said. "If you look at the U.S., whether that’s anti-immigrant sentiments, police brutality targeting communities of color, social justice issues are ongoing and ever present.”

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