Alumni Reflection: Noelle Chin-Vance, Leo Martin, 2016

I don’t usually post anything on Facebook, besides happy pictures of my experience as a college student, however, today is different. As I was walking by Turlington I was a witness of a group of people shouting “No more Nazis!”. I knew about there being a man who walked around wearing a swastika. I knew of his presence on and off campus from Facebook and other forms of social media. However, I never thought that I would be a witness to it. According to an article, it was noted that “Dewitz also questions whether the Holocaust happened” (Bailey). How can a man even begin to question the truth about the Holocaust?

In 2016, I was a senior at TERRA Environmental Research Institute. In 2016, I was close to graduating high school and beginning my new life at the University of Florida. In 2016, I went on the Leo Martin March of the Living, a program that teaches about the Holocaust and the impact it had on the Jewish people, along with many other ethnicities. I stood in Auschwitz. I marched to Birkenau. I saw everything that I could see. I recorded everything that I could. Seeing the gas chambers can only make one nauseous. Looking at the standing gallows, one can only imagine how it felt to feel the lack of air entering the lungs, as the rope tightens around their necks. One cannot imagine the pain and suffering the people went through. Only a survivor can remember exactly how it was, because it is a scar in his heart, mind, body, and soul.

As part of the program, I had on my bus a Holocaust survivor who told his story. His name was Julius Eisenstein. He was an elderly man, in his late nineties. While in Birkenau, I stood in one of the few standing barracks and he told his story. He told how he was separated from his family, and never saw them again. His family was sent to Treblinka to die; only Julius survived. He had no one left. He was left alone, only to finally be liberated in Dachau. Bringing myself out from his story, back to where I was standing, I could only leave that barracks in tears and sorrow. The only thing I could think of while walking back to the bus was something that Rabbi Agler said at the end; he said, “life cannot be sustained with hate.”

I cannot give all the details to you on paper. I cannot just simply write what I saw, it is too much. I cannot tell you fully how each survivor felt during the Holocaust. I cannot even describe it; I cannot describe how it feels to lose everything because I am one of the lucky ones. I am lucky to live where I still have my family, friends, etc. I went home after this trip, never really speaking a word about my experience. It was so emotional that I didn’t really want to open up about how I felt. However, I can tell you now my experience on this trip. I can tell you now what I saw. So to Michael Dewitz, and others who question whether the Holocaust really happened, come speak to me. I will not stand here idly as you spread ignorance, like a disease, across this world. I will not stand idly as you stand in Turlington Plaza and wear a swastika, knowing exactly what that means to everyone else, especially the Jewish community.

Finally, to those who are posting on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, ect suggesting that we simply ignore him, I beg you to rethink about that decision. One of the reasons the Holocaust happened was because people were a bystander and didn’t speak up when something was wrong. Being silent is only letting him speak his side, and leaving us to become victims. It is imperative that you stand up against this hate crime. If I learned anything from the Leo Martin March of the Living is that being a bystander and not speaking up, believing “this wouldn’t happen to me,” doesn’t solve anything and if the time comes and it does happen to you, there may not be anyone else to hear you and speak up for you.

Speak up and don’t become a silent bystander. Remember the innocent lives the Holocaust took. Remember the stories that the survivors told to us. Remember to tell their stories to everyone else, because now we are the witnesses of the Holocaust and it is our responsibility to make sure that the Shoah (the Holocaust) isn’t forgotten and just turned into a page of a history book.

Written by Noelle Chin Vance, 2016 Leo Martin March of the Living


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