At the University of Texas Hillel, 200 students spent four hours de-thorning the 10,000 white roses that would be given out on campus the following day. Proving that a rose is more than just a rose, each represented the number of people killed at Auschwitz in a single day and publicized events by The White Rose Society, Texas Hillel’s Holocaust education and genocide awareness group.
This year, The White Rose Society partnered with the Institute for Diversity at the University of Texas at Austin to plan a symposium, Apathy or Action: The Struggle for Human Rights. The symposium was created to address issues related to genocide, race, diversity, human rights, and human interaction. It aimed to expand students’ classroom educations by offering new perspectives on current and past human rights offenses. It also hoped to increase student and community activism in combating current human rights injustices.
Scheduled to coincide with Yom HaShoah, the symposium began on April 16 with a campus-wide Holocaust Memorial Ceremony featuring Holocaust survivor Walter Kase, who shared his heart-wrenching personal story. During the remaining symposium events, the Holocaust remained on the forefront of participants minds as other human rights violations were discussed. The ceremony was followed by a screening of “The Last Days of Sophie Scholl,” a film about one of the founders of the original White Rose Society, a student resistance group in Nazi Germany.
“As one of the students at the Holocaust Memorial Ceremony that was not Jewish, I can say that I was greatly moved by the evening. I had learned about the Holocaust previously in history classes, but I had not realized the enormity of the suffering,” said University of Texas junior, Alper Konuk.
On April 17, Dr. Vahakn Dadrian, an expert on the Armenian genocide, gave a talk comparing the Holocaust and Armenian genocide, followed by the movie “Screamers,” a documentary on the Armenian genocide created by the band System of a Down.
On April 18, the Fairness Fair showcased campus and community organizations involved in human rights activism. That evening, Dr. Samuel Totten, an expert on genocide studies, spoke about the crisis in Darfur. This was followed by a screening of “The Devil Came on Horseback,” a film produced by Brian Steidle about his experiences as an African Union observer and a Darfur activist. The symposium concluded on April 19 with a screening of the movie “Invisible Children,” which documents the use of child armies in Uganda.
“Texas Hillel spearheaded this program to honor and remember those who lost their lives in the Holocaust, to pay tribute to the victims of other genocides and the use these tragedies as inspiration for students to fight current atrocities. A key success of the program was bringing together diverse groups from around campus to showcase the many ways that UT students are working to defend human rights,” said Robin Weber, assistant director of Jewish Student life at Texas Hillel. “Hopefully, we’ve inspired more students to get involved with one or another of these organizations.”
Over the course of the week, more than 500 people were touched by the programs of the four-day symposium. It offered a new appreciation for the words “never again.”
“The White Rose Society has always done a lot of amazing programs, but here was a chance to take our message to the entire UT campus and Austin community,” said Heather Zidow, a University of Texas senior and Texas Hillel Tzedek Intern.
“As a staff member, watching passionate and dedicated students develop and execute their vision for the symposium was incredibly rewarding,” said Weber. “These students are beacons of ethical leadership for the campus community.”