West Windsor, N.J. – On Thursday, May 2, the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center at Mercer County Community College (MCCC) observed Yom HaShoah with a ceremony to remember those who perished in the Holocaust of World War Two.
The center was crowded with students and community members. Among the group were five students who are leaving May 10 to travel to Poland as part of MCCC’s 10-day Study Tour. Twenty-two travelers will visit the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentrations camps in Oswiecim, along with stays in Warsaw and Krakow.
The ceremony was led by MCCC Professor of History Craig Coenen, who is co-chair of the Holocaust Center with Edie Sarafine. “As we reflect on this decades-old history, we are aware that in just the last six weeks, a mosque, a church and a synagogue were all targets of violence,” Coenen said. “That’s the main reason we are here – to continue the work of stamping out hatred against our fellow human beings.”
The group lit 12 candles – six for the Jewish victims, five for other victims and one as a general memorial.
Four students read excerpts of powerful pieces by renowned author Elie Wiesel, author of the acclaimed Holocaust Memoir “Night.”
Holocaust survivor and a dedicated member of the Holocaust Center’s Advisory Commission, Dr. Vera Goodkin, an MCCC professor emerita, shared some of her story and the importance of keeping these memories alive. “When I came to America at the age of 16, people told me I must be exaggerating. I was told to ‘put it away.’ For 37 years, I did not speak about my experience,” she recalled.
In 1981, Goodkin finally shared her story at a conference at Rider University and realized why that mattered. “That day was not just an event. I realized it was my duty, something I needed to do to honor my family members who died in Auschwitz and to inform generations to come.”
Goodkin urged students not to stand by in the face of injustice. “This is what can happen if you do not become an upstander,” she said. “Ethnic cleansing and man’s inhumanity to man is alive and well. There are new examples of genocide all around us.”
Goodkin’s message was powerful and clear. “If you are in a group of your peers, don’t look for who is ‘different’ – whether that’s their culture, religion, or the foods they eat. If you think of them as ‘the other,’ you will view them with suspicion, which leads to fear, hatred and ultimately persecution.”
Goodkin continued, “We must realize that we are all human beings first. When we emphasize our common humanity, the things that make us different don’t matter. Spread hope and love in your life going forward. That’s what matters.”