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  • Hillels of Georgia

UGA Jewish Community Remembers the Holocaust on Holocaust Remembrance Day

The Red & Black (January 27, 2023)

On Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day is acknowledged in communities around the globe and in Athens. It is a day set aside to remember the roughly six million victims of the mass genocide in Europe during World War II, and falls on the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz on Jan. 27, 1945.

The University of Georgia’s student Jewish life center, Hillel UGA, will observe the day on social media and provide memorial candles for those who wish to honor people lost in the Holocaust, according to Hannah Margolis, an Ezra Springboard fellow and Jewish education specialist at Hillel.

Margolis sees Holocaust Remembrance Day as a day for education and reflection, especially within her family, which was directly impacted by the Holocaust.

“A lot of people on my mom's side of the family died in the Holocaust,” Margolis said. “[But] there are also some people who survived … so there's a pretty rich history of my family who was from Eastern Europe.”

For Kira Mermelstein, chair of Hillel’s social programming committee and sophomore entertainment media studies and film double major, there is a connection to the Holocaust even though she has no known relatives who were lost.

“It's hard not to have a connection,” Mermelstein said. “[Though] in my personal family, nobody was in Europe during the war, I had teachers who had parents who were in concentration camps [and] one of my best friend’s grandparents were in concentration camps.”

Though not as publicly commemorated in the United States as in Europe, people of Jewish ancestry and faith still honor the day in different ways.

Matthew Aftergut, a member of Hillel’s Jewish life committee and a freshman intended entertainment media studies major at UGA, commemorated those lost in the Holocaust during a nine-month stay in Israel. During a trip to Poland, Aftergut visited many sites connected to the genocide, including Kraków, Warsaw and Auschwitz-Birkenau.

“It was very emotional walking through the gates at Auschwitz, where it says ‘Work will set you free’ in German. It immediately hit me, and I started to tear up,” Aftergut said. “All my friends were there, and [we were] just this group of Jews walking into a place of such tragedy. It was a bittersweet moment.”

The trip to visit these sites was a life-changing experience, especially seeing the personal belongings of victims, said Aftergut.

“You can't put six million into your head. ... But seeing in Auschwitz … all these people's belongings … It adds to the fact that these people were basically stripped away from everything they know,” Aftergut said. “They became nameless and the same as everyone else. [This] really made me feel such a connection to those individuals.”

This connection to his faith is what motivated Aftergut to join Hillel and to continue practicing his faith on campus, even amidst the lingering fear of Antisemitism in the South.

“In Israel, I felt safer to be Jewish than coming back here. Since I've been back, I haven't been fully comfortable enough to wear [the Kippah],” Aftergut said.

Regardless, Aftergut and the UGA Jewish community continue to practice their religion proudly while acknowledging and remembering past tragedies.

“I always wear my Star of David on [my] necklace,” Mermelstein said. “And I try and just stand a little taller and be a little prouder of who I am and where I come from.”

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