Lessons of the Shoah creates controversy


Caroline Cooney

Senior Project Coordinator Louise Geczy shakes hands with a speaker from Lessons of the Shoah, an assembly which focuses on the Holocaust and refugees. This event is hosted every year at JC, bringing together students from multiple schools.

On Thursday, Nov. 11, JC hosted, “Lessons of the Shoah: The Long-Term Legacy of the Holocaust,” a program informing students of Jewish persecution, global immigration, and the experiences of refugees. The all-day assembly brought students together from social studies teacher Darrion Siler’s Honors U.S. History classes, along with students from other schools including Edgewood, Bryn Mawr, C. Milton Wright, and more.

The program began with a session about the Holocaust. Senior Project Coordinator Louise Geczy presented a video about Anne Frank’s father and his attempts to flee Germany with his family. Following the video were several presentations about Jewish persecution along with a speech by Siler about labeling ourselves and others, specifically immigrants.

“I thought the assembly was very inspiring and definitely helped influence my decisions for the future,” junior Grace Hollin, who attended the program, said.

Later, a set of four panelists spoke about their personal experiences with persecution and discrimination. Martha Weiman, a Holocaust survivor, spoke of her family’s struggle to leave Germany and board a ship bound for the United States before World War II. She spoke of her grandfather who was left behind, never to be seen again.

Controversy struck, however, during one of the final events of the day. One panelist shared stories of discrimination toward Muslims, like herself. The speaker, a representative from the Institute for Islamic, Christian, and Jewish Studies, gave facts about Muslim oppression and discrimination in the United States, such as the time a Muslim woman was set on fire in the streets of New York.

As her speech continued about Muslim oppression, she called President-Elect Donald Trump a “monster,” and she gave the opinion that these next four years will be very hard for the Muslim community.

Some students during the presentation were upset by the speech and proceeded to leave the auditorium. At the end of the assembly, several of them went to confront the woman. Since she had left, they proceeded to have a conversation with the remaining panelists, leading to a heated discussion between students who support Trump and panelists who are opposed to his views.

“I thanked [the panelists] for being honest, because the truth is that you don’t have to agree in order to be respectful.”

— Junior Nicole Kanaras

One junior who wishes to remain anonymous was taken aback by the panelists’ remarks. “I thought the assembly was misconstrued,” the student said. While the student felt that the beginning of the assembly was moving and informative, “it went downhill from there,” the student said.

Another junior student who wishes to remain anonymous felt as though the remarks made were unnecessary. “I thought the way that two of the panelists presented their information was very inappropriate. They made me feel like I was a terrible person for not being pro-Hillary. Yes, I am a Trump supporter, but that does not mean that I hate every single person who is a Muslim,” the student said.

However, other students such as Hollin felt that the panelist’s speech about Muslim persecution was inspiring and necessary. “I was emotional hearing about the way she and her community have been treated,” Hollin said. “I believe it was appropriate since she personally has experienced the effects of Muslim discrimination.”

Another student who felt the same as Hollin was Junior Class Vice President Nicole Kanaras. “I thanked [the panelists] for being honest, because the truth is that you don’t have to agree in order to be respectful,” Kanaras said.

The argument between the panelists and students lasted for a half-hour but was interrupted by Siler, who reminded everyone to remain calm, respectful, and mature while expressing opinions.

“It was not ever my intention to have had it become a politicized thing. The main message of the day for me was open discourse, compassion, collective edification, and awareness,” Siler said.

The following day, Friday, Nov. 11, Siler asked his classes to come to the Brown Room during advisory for a short meeting. He apologized to his students for the presence of politics in the assembly and informed everyone that the moderators of the event did not intend for this to happen. According to Siler, the speeches were unscripted and there was no intent for political bias. Geczy then contacted the other schools in attendance and apologized to them as well.

“I called students together in order to show my gratitude for the way that many of them chose to handle themselves. Having a discussion with someone about something you’re passionate about is not always easy, but when real growth happens, it’s after having conversations with people with different opinions than yours,” Siler said.

While both anonymous students were glad that Siler called a meeting the following day to discuss what was said, they agreed that they found themselves focusing on the panelists. “I took [what was said] with a grain of salt,” one of the students said.

Another student believed that the panelists, “did choose the wrong place and the wrong time to express their opinions, [but] Mr. Siler was not to blame for what was said.”

“I thought what Mr. Siler said [at the meeting] was good, but I think he should have mentioned the damage caused by John Carroll students when they argued,” Hollin said. “I thought the way people reacted was rude because she was telling her story of persecution.”

Despite the controversy and arguments started by the final panel, Siler asked students during the meeting to remember what the true point of the assembly was.

“We strive to be as inclusive as possible and so, of course, we’re trying to promote ideas, organizations that seek to carry out those same ends and promote diversity of thought and compassion. I think the main message of the first part of the day was to bring awareness to the plight of Jewish refugees, both before, during, and after World War II, and we all gained great insight from those speakers who shared those presentations and movies. And I think the overall take away from all of that was very positive,” Siler said.

Alyssa Kraus and Taylor Bynion are Copy Editors for The Patriot and jcpatriot.com.