BY RACHEL JUDY, REGENT UNIV. NEWS—
International Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi death camp during World War II. On Thursday, Jan. 27, Regent University Library hosted a remembrance service and world premier of a series of oil paintings titled “The Auschwitz Album Revisited,” by Dr. Pat Mercer Hutchens.
“Tonight we stand united before God in prayer and remember,” Dr. Sara Baron, dean of the Regent University Library, said during the service. “We are part of the last generation who will hear the survivors’ stories directly.”
The evening began with remarks from Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, founder and chancellor of Regent. Robertson recalled a visit to Dachau, another concentration camp in Germany. “You realize that here is a place where thousands and thousands were crammed into boxcars and sent to their death,” he said. “All this by a supposedly civilized society.” Robertson has long been a supporter of Israel. “It isn’t a contest between Jew and Christian. It’s a question of brothers and sisters standing hand-in-hand,” he said.
Rabbi Israel Zoberman, founding rabbi at Congregation Beth Chaverim in Virginia Beach, Va., said he was excited to be among friends for such an important occasion. “Let us together as one family affirm the God of light,” he said.
Dr. Carlos Campo, president of Regent University, reminded the audience that anti-Semitism still exists, and its presence cannot be ignored. “We will ever remain vigilant, and I stand in the tradition that says ‘never again,'” he stated.
Honored guest David Katz also spoke. Katz is a member of the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater, Va. His parents perished at Auschwitz in 1942.
Speaking solemnly, Katz recalled the story of increasingly intolerant Nazi Germany. What started as an embargo against Jewish merchants grew into Kristallnacht—a series of attacks on Jews and their homes, synagogues and businesses—and eventually deportation to death camps such as Auschwitz. Katz’s mother and father traveled from Germany to Belgium and then France, trying to stay ahead of the Nazi advance, but his parents were eventually captured and sent to Auschwitz. Katz remained in France where he escaped from Nazi custody and was taken in first by a Catholic priest and then a farmer. While in France, he aided the Resistance movement.
After World War II ended, Katz learned that his parents and most of his extended family had died in Nazi camps. He came to the United States to live and later served in the U.S. military during the Korean War.
Katz admits that he doesn’t usually question why he was one of the only members of his family to survive. “I believe that God wanted some of us to survive to tell the story,” he said.
Following Katz, Hutchens spoke about her paintings and the strong call from God that prompted her to begin creating them. The paintings come from the Auschwitz Album, photographs taken of Jews arriving at Auschwitz and being processed into the camp in 1944.
Hutchens became aware of the photographs through her husband. “When I first saw the Auschwitz Album,” she said, “I started to look at these pictures. Because there were so many women and children … I was particularly touched. I saw these women and children … and I was overwhelmed.” She continued, “I tried to think about how I would have felt, and I was overwhelmed with sorrow.”
Hutchens began the paintings, planning to do a series of 12—one for each of the tribes of Israel. But, as she began, she realized she needed to tell the stories of each of the children pictured in the photos. “You get to know people when you paint,” she said. “I don’t want to miss anybody; I want to memorialize them all.”
Currently 28 paintings are on display, but Hutchens continues to add to the series. To her, each painting tells the personal story of a child and his or her family that deserves to be memorialized.
The remembrance service concluded with the El Male Rachamim, a traditional Jewish prayer recited for the departed. Dr. Roni Wexler, known for extensive projects that promote unity and reconciliation among Jews and Gentiles, offered the prayer.
The paintings will be on public display at the University Library through Feb. 6, before being taken to the Krakow Jewish Cultural Festival in Poland.
In 2005, the United Nations General Assembly designated this day as International Holocaust Remembrance Day (IHRD), an annual day of commemoration to honor the victims of the Nazi era. The resolution urges member nations to develop programs dedicated “to remembrance and education, in order to help prevent future acts of genocide.”
Learn more about the Auschwitz Album Revisited.