Las Vegas Sun

August 20, 2019

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Where I Stand:

Lessons these new doctors teach must be retold

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Wade Vandervort

A Holocaust survivor cries as she arrives at the Touro University spring commencement ceremony at Westgate Monday, May 13, 2019. Twenty-one Holocaust survivors were awarded honorary degrees by the university.

Congratulations to the graduates. You have lived a most honorable life from which there is so much more to learn.

Touro University Nevada had its normal spring graduation ceremonies this past week at the Westgate Las Vegas. It was, as it always is, a moment of pride for the parents and families and one of gratitude and relief for the graduates. In that respect, it was like every other graduation across this country.

But, this one was different.

That is because Touro was determined to confer honorary doctoral degrees on 21 very special people, almost all of whom may not have completed the traditional academic requirements necessary to achieve such high recognition.

Why didn’t they get their education when it was their turn?

Because at a time when most young people were attending elementary, secondary and high schools, these 21 and millions of others were victims of the Holocaust. They didn’t get to go to school because they had to go to concentration camps and, sometimes, their deaths courtesy of Adolf Hitler and his Nazis.

These survivors are now well into their 90s or more and have led obviously long and memorable lives. To be honored by Touro has been a recognition long overdue and well deserved.

When Shelley Berkley, Touro’s CEO for Nevada and California, told me of this singular honor her school had to recognize these worthy individuals, it reminded us both of an earlier time when Shelley was Nevada’s most able congresswoman. The concern then, which has only gotten more concerning now, was that we were moving well into the third generation of Americans after the Holocaust.

Once the survivors were gone, we pondered, who would tell their story and how would it be told? And what would be made of the history of the Holocaust when no one was left to keep the record straight. That was the question back then.

We didn’t have to live that much longer to learn the answer.

Even though today we have institutions dedicated to keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive and teaching its tragic lessons to the newer generations, it is all too evident that those lessons have not yet taken or have not been widely enough taught.

Anti-Semitism is alive and well in the United States — where it should not be — as well as everywhere else. And that is very bad news for Jews and non-Jews of goodwill around the world.

We see and hear on a daily basis political leaders misapprehending the lessons of the Holocaust, its history and its factual basis. Whether they do so intentionally or just because they do not know (I am betting most just don’t know because they either haven’t been taught properly or they come from places that were ill-informed to begin with) the fact remains that young people are listening. And learning.

And when a generation so far removed from the Holocaust itself doesn’t hear the truth about what happened and why, it is more apt not only to accept the false witness of others but, worse, to repeat the horror.

That is why we must depend upon our leaders — political, social and civic — to always speak out against such evil when it rears its ugly head. And when ignorance of the facts tries to win the day, those who know better must yell!

At some point, those 21 good and decent people who are now doctors of humane letters will move on, and in their place must be the kind of young people who will know the story of man’s worst inhumanity and be able to recognize it before it begins to repeat itself.

It is threatening to do that now. And it has allies at the highest levels of our government. Where just a short time ago it was rare to hear an anti-Semitic threat in America, today such talk is commonplace. The haters are encouraged in their words and deeds by some people who just don’t know any better — to whom the Holocaust is just a word without meaning — and by others who know exactly what they are saying or allow to be said in their presence.

What will happen when the Holocaust survivors are gone? Who will speak for them and who will demand that the truth be spoken?

I ask because it is apparent that the truth and the facts are no longer being demanded in our government, some of our schools and in many of our homes.

One would think that after all these centuries of hating Jews and after all these years since the Nazis did their worst during World War ll, that we in America would know better than to let it creep back into our lives. But, apparently, we don’t know any better because it is in our lives, in our work and in our psyche.

And there aren’t enough leaders saying — NO! And the one person who speaks for all Americans is barely audible.

But there are 21 people who know the truth. There are 21 people who have lived long lives and succeeded despite impossible odds who take every opportunity to share their stories with newer generations.

We call those people many things for living such fulfilling lives. Now we can call them something new — Doctor!

Well done.

Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.