Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel said, “I decided to devote my life to telling the story because I felt that having survived I owe something to the dead. And anyone who does not remember betrays them again.”
Preserving the memory of her father, Roger Nathan Blum, is something to which Denise Lewis has devoted herself.
Lewis, a native of Birmingham, Ala., holds a degree in elementary education and has previously taught school for a number of years in the past. She is married to her husband of forty-two years, Wayne Lewis, and together, they have three kids and five grandchildren.
Carrying a torch of remembrance, she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor and will be the featured speaker for Jacksonville State University’s annual Holocaust Remembrance this week.
Born in Brumath, France in 1920, Roger Nathan Blum was sent to Birmingham, Ala. at the age of nineteen to live with some relatives during the initial European upheavals leading up to World War II. However, back in France, his remaining family members were captured by Nazi forces and later went into hiding after being released.
While in America, Blum joined the United States Army and returned to his homeland of France in 1942. With the assistance of the American Red Cross, Blum was able to successfully locate his immediate family while in France.
“It was a lot of series of ironic events that he was able to go back to France,” explains Lewis. “He never really told us these stories until about 1995. I never was aware of these stories. The more we talked to him and the more research we did, we were able to piece together these stories.”
Growing up in Birmingham, Lewis was not taught French and feels it was her father’s way of acclimating their family to being American. When Blum finally began talking about his experiences during World War II, Lewis was interested to learn of the family history of which she knew so very little.
Lewis explains that her father was rather surprised to find that people were interested in his story and he began to publically speak about his experiences during World War II.
Blum passed away in 2007, but Lewis has taken up the mantle to keep her father’s story alive, and ultimately, contributing to the resounding voice of the millions of Jews who were affected by the Holocaust.
“I just wanted to keep his stories alive,” states Lewis. “…As horrible as the things were, there were some happy endings and some things that weren’t all bad…I think this is more of a success story through determination…I think my core purpose in sharing his story and my grandparents’ story is to share the story that there were people out there that helped, and that helped save my family.”
Feeling deeply the responsibility to kindle the flame of remembrance, Lewis states, “The reason I keep doing this is, it is not only sharing my story, but it is letting people know that there are many, many stories out there and if we don’t continue asking and getting them to share, this is going to be a generation that will soon be gone. We won’t have these stories.”
Kim Stevens, chair of the JSU Holocaust Remembrance Committee, states, “The annual JSU Holocaust Remembrance is an opportunity for the community to reflect on the Holocaust, remembering those who died and honoring those who survived. Hearing someone's Holocaust story provides a personal connection to the past. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's theme for the 2014 Days of Remembrance is ‘Confronting the Holocaust: American Responses.’ Ms. Lewis's story about her father should dovetail nicely with this year's theme.”
The JSU Holocaust Remembrance first began in 1982 as a project of the JSU Wesley Foundation and has since grown to from the size of twenty-five attendees to several hundred attendees made up of students, faculty members, and the surrounding community.
In addition to Kim Stevens, the JSU Holocaust Remembrance Committee is comprised of Dr. Joe Delap, Ms. Bethany Latham, Dr. Russ Lemmons, Ms. Esta Spector, Dr. Steve Whitton, and Ms. Jade Wagner (SGA president).
This year’s event will also include special music by Matthew and Heather Headley (JSU music department alumni), a candle lighting, a commentary by JSU history professor Dr. Russ Lemmons, readings from the “Imagining the Holocaust” writing competition, and a Kaddish. About thirty minutes prior to the event, there will be a screening of a JSU documentary film featuring Holocaust survivor Max Steinmetz.
The JSU annual Holocaust Remembrance will take place on Thursday, April 10 at 7:30 p.m. in the Ernest Stone Theater. Admission is free. For more information about the JSU Holocaust Remembrance, please email Kim Stevens or call (256)-782-5762. There is also a contact form available on the JSU Holocaust Remembrance website which can be used for more information, questions, or comments: http://www.jsu.edu/holocaust/contact.html.
Photo: Denise Lewis (http://bhamholocausteducation.org/speaker-profiles.htm)