On January 27, 1945 the advancing Soviet army entered Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp. In 2005, the United Nations designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era.
This year, on the 66th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz, the Library marked this solemn event with two days of commemorative events. From 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Thursday, the Library screened Claude Lanzmann’s 9½ hour film Shoah. Based on interviews with concentration camp survivors, guards, and witnesses from surrounding villages, Shoah (1985) has been acclaimed as the most important of all Holocaust documentaries.
At 6:30 p.m., in front of a standing-room only audience in the Library Auditorium, a memorial service for victims of the Nazis was held in conjunction with an introduction to the world premier of The Auschwitz Album Revisited, an exhibition of 28 paintings by artist Dr. Pat Mercer Hutchens. The memorial service included reflections on the Holocaust by Library Dean Sara Baron, University Chancellor Pat Robertson, and President Carlos Campo. Five honored guests also spoke. Dr. Israel Zoberman, founding Rabbi at Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach, led the recitation of the Kaddish (Jewish Mourner’s Prayer). Holocaust survivor and Chesapeake resident David Katz gave a moving testimony of how he survived the war with the aid of French “righteous Gentiles,” and even served as a courier for the French Resistance. A brief autobiography of Mr. Katz may be read here.
Following Mr. Katz’s remarks, Rev. Sonny Mathew introduced the artist. Dr. Hutchens recounted looking at the Auschwitz Album and feeling deeply moved by the photographs, particularly those of women and children. “I tried to think about how I would have felt, and I was overwhelmed with sorrow.” It was then that she felt God’s call to give artistic expression to the subjects of the photographs. Initially, Dr. Hutchens had planned to do a series of only twelve paintings, but as she worked on the project, she felt a responsibility to memorialize all the children in the Auschwitz Album. Twenty-eight paintings have now been created, and Dr. Hutchens continues to add to the series.
Following a five-minute break, the audience re-assembled in the Library gallery, and the artist’s husband, Brigadier General James Hutchens, US Army (ret.), offered a prayer, blessing the paintings and officially opening the exhibition. A video of Gen. Hutchen’s remarks may be viewed here.
The Auschwitz Album Revisited will be on display in the Library gallery through February 18th. The paintings will be taken to the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival in Poland this summer.
On January 28th at the Library, 14 readers joined historian Dr. David Meyer for a discussion of Elie Wiesel’s memoir of Auschwitz, Night, one of the foundational works of Holocaust literature.
Throughout all the commemorative events, the declaration “Never Again” emerged as the over-arching theme of the proceedings, with President Campo articulating what must be the end-purpose of all education about the Holocaust: “We will ever remain vigilant, and I stand in the tradition that says ‘never again.’”