ST. BONAVENTURE, N.Y. — On Thursday, April 19, St. Bonaventure University will observe Holocaust Remembrance Day with a memorial service at 7 p.m. in the university’s chapel in Doyle Hall. The public is invited to attend.
Sr. Suzanne Kush, C.S.S.F, director of the Franciscan Center for Social Concern on campus, said the memorial service will not only aim to remember those who died during the Holocaust, but also to bring a sense of dignity and respect to all people.
“The service is really highlighting the individuals who have in some way lost their lives through the atrocities of World War II, as well as remembering those of various ethnic groups, countries and religious backgrounds who also suffered through the Holocaust,” Sr. Suzanne said.”
The memorial service will include a reflection from University President Sr. Margaret Carney, O.S.F., who will reflect on Don Aldo Brunacci, a priest in Assisi who helped save many Jewish lives in Italy during World War II.
“Remembrance of the Holocaust, or Shoah, is important. Such remembrance guarantees that we are always on guard when faced with racism, prejudice, exclusion of human rights,” said Sr. Margaret. “The slow descent into the hell of the genocide of World War II took people along the slide into cooperation because it was slow, by degrees, and created a sense of denial. This allowed otherwise decent people to become complacent and complicit. For that reason, these memorials awaken our consciences to see the dangers in new invitations to marginalize those we fear or whose beliefs differ from our own.”
Also speaking during the service will be Joseph Diamond, a Holocaust survivor.
Aside from speakers, various members of the community will light seven candles at the service — each one representing individuals and groups of individuals who died during the Holocaust.
“St. Bonaventure University has a long tradition of multi-faith outreach and indeed the Franciscans in Assisi were involved in saving so many Jews during the Holocaust itself. It is so fitting, therefore, to have St. Bonaventure and the surrounding community be a source of education, remembrance and inclusion for all 11 million men, women and children who died during this heartbreaking time. We are thankful of the expression of love, respect and solidarity,” said Lana D. Benatovich, a member of the university’s Board of Trustees and president of the National Federation for Just Communities of Western New York.
St. Bonaventure sophomore Simone Bernstein and senior Mike Kaplan are helping to organize the remembrance.
“As one of a handful of Jewish students on campus, I wanted to organize a meaningful and educational experience for students to help them understand the impact of the Holocaust. It’s important to showcase the impact of the Holocaust so people never forget nor allow it to happen again. Through this Holocaust Remembrance Service, we are remembering those who survived, suffered and fought for their lives,” said Bernstein.
Although the Holocaust is a painful era of human history, Kaplan said it is a tragedy that must not be forgotten.
“It is a time that is most remembered as a failure of our species to respect and cherish each other, but often forgotten are the powerful stories of selflessness. On this night we mourn the tragedy of inhuman crimes, but we also celebrate the righteousness of men and woman who bravely stood then, as well as those who stand today, in their attempts to protect the marginalized men and woman of the world,” said Kaplan.
Fr. Francis Di Spigno, O.F.M., executive director of University Ministries at St. Bonaventure, said the memorial service is important because it ties in with the university’s Franciscan tradition.
“As a Franciscan university, one of the main charisms of Franciscans is to be bridge builders. (Saint) Francis did that in his life,” Fr. Francis said. “I think it’s really important that we as a university mark what is one of the most horrific events perpetrated to the human race … as an opportunity to recognize our uniqueness, our thisness, each person has, as well as each religion, each denomination, each community.”
Fr. Francis hopes the service will not only heal but also bring about conversation and thought about how peace can be brought to the world today.
“Our hope (is) that it also allows a sense of healing for those whose memories are still scarred,” Fr. Francis said. “(And) to remember the pain of history; we need to be vigilant to pray for peace and to be mindful so that history does not repeat itself.”
Congress established the Days of Remembrance as our nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust and created the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum as a permanent living memorial to the victims. This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day is Thursday, April 19.
About the University: Inspired for more than 150 years by the Franciscan values of individual dignity, community inclusiveness, and service, St. Bonaventure University cultivates graduates who are confident and creative communicators, collaborative leaders and team members, and innovative problem solvers who are respectful of themselves, others, and the diverse world around them.