Queens College commemorated International Holocaust Remembrance Day Sunday a little bit differently than everyone else.
For starters, the United Nations designated Jan. 27 as the day of memorial for the 11 million victims of the Holocaust. In addition, the college invited speakers to draw attention to the forgotten minorities persecuted under the Third Reich in Germany in an effort to promote a better understanding of the prejudices that led to the various genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries.
“This is not a usual Holocaust recognition most of you are used to,” said Jeff Gottlieb, founder of the college’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which was held Sunday due to scheduling difficulties. “We’re focused on fostering inter-group understanding.”
Gottlieb reminded the attendees gathered in the student union ballroom of the atrocities committed in the Congo starting in 1996, of those in Darfur at the beginning of this century, of the 1915 massacre of Armenians during World War I and the Rape of Nanking in 1937.
This year, speakers from the LGBT and disabled persons communities and from the Jehovah’s Witnesses shared their histories from the Holocaust and spoke about the importance of remembering these lessons in order to combat the prejudices all minority groups face today.
City Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) said he was not taught in high school that lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transsexuals and other deviants were put in concentration camps and forced to wear pink triangles on their clothing.
“It was not until just 10 years ago that the German government apologized to the gay community,” he said, adding that many anti-gay Nazi laws had been on the books until 1994.
Dromm said the real lesson to be learned was not of the dangers of homophobia but of defining marginalized groups as “the other.”
“As a gay activist prior to being elected to the City Council, I’ve always tried to reach out to communities other than my own,” he said, drawing a parallel to the recent rise of Islamophobia.
The councilman said most recently he spoke out against bigotry in reaction to the spray-painting of swastikas on the Jackson Heights Library.
“I didn’t do it because I want to support the Jewish community. I did it because I feel I was protecting myself,” he said.
Jolene Chu is a Jehovah’s Witness and, as conscientious objectors, members of her faith were also forced to don pink triangles under Adolf Hitler’s regime. She said the Nazis went after non-violent protesters because they opposed everything the party stood for: racism, ultra-nationalism and absolute obedience to men.
Chu pointed out that the inscription outside the U.N. headquarters reads, “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation. Neither shall they learn war any more.”
“War is learned behavior,” she said. “You’re here today because you agree. Peace, harmony, cooperation and understanding are qualities that can be learned, too.”
Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4574.
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