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  • Delaney Hayden

Annual UN Holocaust Remembrance Day Event Held

By: Delaney Hayden, Asst. News Editor

The permanent chair of Polish culture at Canisius University hosted its annual lecture in honor of UN Holocaust Remembrance Day, entitled,“‘Whosoever saves a single life, saves an entire universe’: Rescue During the Holocaust.” A partnership with the Holocaust Education Resource Organization (HERO) and the Buffalo Jewish Federation, the lecture was held Jan. 31, 2024 in Science Hall Commons. The UN’s Holocaust Remembrance is actually on Jan. 27, but as interviewee, Mary Lou Wyrobek, board member of the Permanent Chair of Polish Culture at Canisius University, shared “we tend to avoid particularly the Sabbath,” so Jan. 31 worked out for this particular event. 

The UN Holocaust Remembrance Day is based on the day that Auschwitz, the largest of the German Nazi concentration camps and extermination centers in Poland, was liberated. At Auschwitz, over 1.1 million men, women and children lost their lives. The UN Holocaust Remembrance Day remembers their lives as well as the lives of 6 million Jewish people and the estimated 5 million non-Jews people killed in concentration camps by the Germans in the Holocaust.

For the event held at Canisius, Dr. Eileen Lyon, a professor of history at SUNY Fredonia was the guest lecturer. Dr. Lyon received her Ph. D from the University of Cambridge and has expertise in British and European history and the history of the Holocaust, as well as religious and political history. Her commitment to illuminating the past and fostering a deeper understanding of the complexities of human behavior during tumultuous times makes her an ideal speaker for an event of this magnitude. Dr. Lyon presented an overview of the kinds of rescues undertaken during the Holocaust: rescues by diplomatic corps forging official documents, priests forging documents like baptismal certificates and by Jewish people under attack themselves. She especially highlighted the activity of some Catholic religious orders of sisters who worked to hide children in orphanages.

Dr. Lyon's lecture focused on stories of three religious women whose unwavering courage and compassion left an indelible mark on the annals of history. Among these remarkable figures is Mother Superior Matylda Getter of the Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, whose selfless efforts during the Holocaust were explored in depth. Additionally, Sr. Wanda Garczynska, prioress of the Chaste Sisters Nunnery in Warsaw, was highlighted for her pivotal role in providing sanctuary for numerous Jewish individuals, particularly children.

The narrative took a turn as the lecture introduced Sr. Margaret Szlachta, a long-time Buffalonian and member of the Sisters of Social Service, a Religious Order who saved numerous Jews of Hungary, at the cost of the lives of two of the sisters. Recognized as Righteous Among the Nations, these sisters’ humanitarian efforts during WWII underscore the profound impact of individual acts of kindness and bravery.

Dr. Lyon's presentation was not confined to the stories of these extraordinary women. The lecture also delved into a relatively new area of study: the endeavors of the Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust. This exploration sheds light on the lesser-known but equally important efforts of individuals within the Jewish community who risked their lives to save others.

As the world grapples with rising instances of anti-Semitism, the relevance of events like these seemingly becomes more pronounced. The lecture served as a poignant reminder of the atrocities committed during the Holocaust and the importance of collective remembrance to prevent history from repeating itself.

In the wake of recent global events, Ms. Wyrobek expressed the urgency of addressing the rise in anti-Semitism, emphasizing the role of education and awareness. The shocking prevalence of anti-Semitism in contemporary times, exacerbated by geopolitical tensions and recent attacks, underscores the significance of the event. Ms. Wyrobek continued, expressing the importance of this event, especially this year by sharing, “I think particularly this year, after the attack by Hamas, the worst attack since the Holocaust, and of course the Israeli response, the rise in anti-Semitism is actually shocking.”

Despite the challenges posed by current events, the organizers remain steadfast in their commitment to fostering understanding through education. This commitment extends beyond geographical boundaries as well. Ms. Wyrobek touched upon the Buffalo Jewish Federation's upcoming trip to Poland and Vienna, scheduled for April 1. This year’s presentation for the UN Holocaust Remembrance emphasizes Poland, adding depth to the understanding of the historical context.

In an effort to make the event more accessible to the public, the lecture was free of charge, with a reception to follow. This approach aligns with the organizers’ goal of ensuring that the stories and lessons shared during the lecture reach as many individuals as possible. The permanent chair of Polish culture at Canisius University alongside HERO invited the community to engage in this essential dialogue, reflecting on the past and considering its implications for a more tolerant and informed future. Winston Churchill once said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it." This event is one of the many educational opportunities that play a key role in breaking down barriers of ignorance of the past in great attempts to never have this history repeat itself.

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