OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — On this International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the Jewish Community Center of Overland Park affirms there is hope and conflict.
International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army in 1945.
Jessica Rockhold, executive director of the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education, says she reports anti-Semitism at an all-time high, especially after recent anti-Semitic and racist incidents at subway schools.
“We are addressing recent incidents in our community where we are seeing an increase in anti-Semitism, racism and homophobia,” Rockhold said.
Overland Park Police recently responded to racist and anti-Semitic graffiti inside Blue Valley High School and racist social media messages at Bishop Miege.
“To say something is anti-Semitic. You’ve learned something to make it a point of reference,” she said. “When a person draws a swastika on a wall, he knows what kind of reaction it will elicit.”
Rockhold says the community should focus on education beyond the facts and then build empathy.
Holocaust survivor Judy Jacobs focuses on setting the record straight.
“The horrors of Bergen-Belsen will always be with me,” Jacobs said. “I lost my childhood. I never learned to play. I had to make decisions very early on and many of those things are still with me. On the other hand, I’m very grateful to be alive and have had a very good life.”
He described the moments leading up to Adolf Hitler’s invasion.
“A once totally content and relatively prosperous Jewish community has been reduced to an inferior class,” he said. “My grandfather lost his business, my father was a radiologist and suddenly there were no more patients, Jews couldn’t pay, non-Jews wouldn’t consult a Jewish doctor. The war escalated. Hungary thought they were safe from Hitler even though the borders were closed and there was no real news.”
Jacobs said “there were several months of absolute terror”, and then she was deported to Bergen-Belsen, where she remained and then went to Switzerland and the United States in 1946.
Jacobs graduated from the University of Michigan, then earned an MBA and a Ph.D. of the UMKC.
It also feels the brunt of recent local anti-Semitic acts.
“The Holocaust didn’t really end for us in 1945,” he said. “Maybe déjà vu is an exaggeration, but the feeling is there.”
Now 85, Jacobs has shared his story dozens and dozens of times.
“It’s really not fun, the preparation is very painful because you’re revisiting the whole problem,” he said.
Jacobs believes that to reach people, education should be done on a personal level and then understand the impact on the Jewish people.
“I hope in general I’ve made an impact, you never know,” she said.
His reasoning for sharing his story remains the same, to honor the 6 million people killed.
“To try and set the record straight, there are deniers, there are revisionists and I was there,” she said. “We have to learn from the past. People need to know the atrocities human beings are capable of.”
They ask this question to the community on a memorial day.
“What can we do as people with hindsight?” said Rockhold.