CMU Vows To Never Forget

It’s been described as too horrific to imagine. The stories told by those who witnessed it cast chills down the spines of those who listen. The echoes of the screams, pain, and loss still awaken floods of tears. Gruesome devastation. 

The Holocaust was a time of seizure, persecution, and destruction of the Jewish people during World War II. Grisly deaths were piloted by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany, which resulted in millions of innocent lives lost through torture, mass killings, and starvation.  

As part of a nationwide effort to honor those affected, Central Methodist University recently hosted “Holocaust Remembrance Day,” which featured informational displays, a living window, guest speakers, song, and dance in CMU’s Linn Memorial Church on the Fayette campus. The second annual event took place on Tuesday, April 25.

Catherine Shanahan, executive assistant to the president at CMU, developed and coordinated Remembrance Day. She came up with the idea last year, and after a successful first run, made this year’s event bigger, bolder, and more expressive.   

“I am a Christian, but I have a deep affection and interest in Israel and the Jewish people,” Shanahan explained. “The idea has been well-received with all that’s been going on in our state, the nation, and the world with anti-Semitic behavior.” 

Shanahan said looking back on events of the past, like the Holocaust, is not only necessary, but an obligation and social responsibility for the human race.

“It’s a humanity issue and we need to educate ourselves,” she said. “We really have to look at what’s happened in the past, or we’re subject to repeat those things.” 

Holocaust Remembrance Day welcomed several guests outside of CMU, including Rabbi Schmu’el Wolkenfeld of Or HaOlam Messianic Congregation in Overland Park, Kan., who led the Chapel service that took place before the event began.

A welcome message and opening remarks were given by CMU President Roger Drake, who introduced Mike Schmid, director of the Kansas City March of Remembrance. Schmid showed video footage and spoke about the importance of remembrance, silence, and reflection on events of the Holocaust.

Remembrance Day also featured guest speaker Kerstin Haack of Kansas City, a native of Germany, whose grandfather was a Nazi. 

“I wish I didn’t have to stand here today representing the perpetrators – the ones responsible for all hell breaking loose on an entire continent,” she said. “Who could still like us Germans after all that has happened? It was just disgusting – the way we used our strengths, organization and leadership, to systematically eradicate the joyful and thriving culture of 6 million beautiful people, and many more.”

Haack shared an emotional story of her family, holding back tears as she apologized for what her grandfather and others had done.

“My grandfather was a very quiet man,” she said. “My mother said he never talked about what he saw during those years – the veil of silence. His children believed he didn’t do anything wrong.”

She read aloud memories that her mother had written about those times, and spoke about how most of her family was unaware of, or tried to deny, the man her grandfather really was.

“To those affected by the Holocaust, I want to say thank you so much for being here today,” she said. “I’m aware of the fact that reconciliation cannot be forced, but I want to tell you from the bottom of my heart, I am so very sorry.” 

Dramatic Truth, a Kanas City-area ballet theatre, then delivered a commemorative performance that left the audience in a humbled silence. Six dancers – three representing Nazis, and three representing Jews – told the story of the Holocaust with only their body language, grace, and talent. 

Their routine was an original, choreographed piece that depicted concentration camps, the Jewish life, Nazism, and liberation. Dramatic scenes included two of the Jews drug into a gas chamber, screaming as they were murdered, as well as one Jew surviving, and being liberated by a British soldier. 

Artistic director Liz Dimmel said after the routine was choreographed, the dancers were “never the same,” stating that designing such a dance was emotional and life-changing. 

At the end of the performance, CMU’s Chorale joined the dancers, lining up in front of the church to sing “Avinu Malkeinu,” an ancient Jewish prayer typically recited during Jewish services and that was put to music.

“This is about education and getting people connected. It’s not only about the intellectual side – it’s about the heart,” Shanahan said. “That’s why I brought in music and sensory experiences, because I want them to connect in a lot of different ways.” 

And connect they did. Stillness blanketed the audience and eyes filled with tears – an indication that the event was an undeniable success. In closing, everyone in attendance stood and applauded Shanahan, who held back tears, herself, as she thanked them for coming. 

“I hope everyone walks away realizing this isn’t something that just the Jewish people care about,” she said. “We should all be concerned, and we should all be connected.”

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