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8 April 2008
Dr. William A. Meehan:
A Message of Survival...

By Dr. William A. Meehan
President, Jacksonville State University
Weekly Column - The Jacksonville News

“Holocaust” comes from the Greek word “holokauston,” meaning “sacrifice by fire.”

From 1933 to 1945, two out of every three European Jews were subject to a systematic sacrifice because the Nazi regime deemed this race inferior and a threat.

Jacksonville State University finds broadening understanding of the Holocaust essential to the university community and the community-at-large.

With a lack of understanding, some people in the 21st century deny the crimes and catastrophes of the Holocaust even occurred.

“Holocaust revisionism is spreading, and not only among neo-Nazis,” Kate Taylor, of the anti-fascist publication Searchlight, told BBC News in 2005.

“As survivors are increasingly dying out it is much easier to hijack history for whatever cause or purpose.”

In hopes to educate and ensure such a destructive event never occurs again, JSU’s Student Government Association, along with the Holocaust Memorial Committee, presents the annual Remembrance of the Holocaust of World War II on April 3, at 7:30 p.m., in the Stone Center Theater. Holocaust Remembrance began as a project of the Wesley Foundation in 1982. This year, Mr. Jack Bass of Adamsville will be the keynote speaker.

In 1942, Bass was a 19-year-old German Jew working in Berlin when he was arrested by the Schutzstaffel (German SS) and taken immediately to Auschwitz, the first of five camps where he would be imprisoned.

Bass was freed by American troops on May 8, 1945 and immigrated to the United States in 1947; his sister and one cousin make up the only surviving members of his entire family.

Along with Bass’s family and five to six million other Jews, millions of other groups were targeted by the Nazis as well, such as gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, eastern Europeans and handicapped people.

When Bass visited the campus in 2000, he commented the Holocaust teaches “that people should tolerate and understand each other and not judge them by religion and color of their skin.”

“We need to understand the Holocaust not just broadly but deeply, so that we will never forget,” says Associate Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Joe Delap. In January Dr. Delap attended a week-long seminar in Washington, D.C. designed for university faculty teaching classes about the Holocaust.

“The seminar focused on the roles of victims, perpetrators and bystanders, in terms of their actions, interactions and subsequent experiences,” says Dr. Delap.

After co-teaching a May-term course on Holocaust history and literature with Dr. Russel Lemmons, professor of history, Dr. Delap says he was “looking for other teachers’ perspectives on how best to convey this very difficult period of (in)humanity to college students.”

To this end, interested English faculty at JSU developed the idea of “Imagining the Holocaust,” a writing contest designed to teach Holocaust history and its continuing influence in today’s world to middle school and high school students in the state of Alabama.

The competition is open to many kinds of writing, from essays to more creative approaches in poetry and fiction. Entries are due each spring, and prizes, including U.S. Savings Bonds, are awarded to the top three winners in each category.

The top winners will also be invited to participate in Remembrance of the Holocaust and are automatically entered in the Alabama Holocaust Commission’s State Days of Remembrance writing competition.

How to portray the Holocaust is one question; acting as a benumbing bystander is betrayal to those who innocently lost family, friends and their own lives. By bringing people like Jack Bass, formerly known to the SS as No. 106377, to the campus every year, JSU is providing a name, a face and a personal, first-hand account of an event which cannot be denied. “[The victims] words are a testament to human atrocity beyond belief and to the very real ability to survive the same,” says Dr. Delap.

For more information on Remembrance of the Holocaust, please contact Dr. Steven Whitton at 256-782-5414 or John Hickman at 256-782-8253. Information on the writing contest, “Imagining the Holocaust,” can be found at

Erin Chupp, a graduate assistant in the Office of Marketing and Communications, contributed to this article.

About William A. Meehan

Dr. William A. Meehan is president of Jacksonville State University. His column, "Town & Gown," appears in The Jacksonville News.

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