The University of Michigan Hillel hosted the seventh-annual Conference on the Holocaust luncheon Sunday to honor Holocaust survivors.
About 200 University students and faculty and 50 survivors attended the luncheon, with four to five students and one to three survivors at each table. As the event commenced, students and survivors got acquainted with intimate one-on-one discussions over bagels and tuna.
LSA senior Michelle Kappy and LSA junior Alana Karbal, co-directors of the conference, welcomed students and survivors and encouraging them to engage and have meaningful conversation with each other. Tilly Shames, Hillel’s executive director, spoke on the importance of publicizing Jewish history and survival to the world. After, she led the crowd in Mourner’s Kaddish — a Jewish prayer for those who have passed.
Because Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights, begins Wednesday, the event incorporated a holiday theme with Chanukah cookies and spinning dreidel toys on the tables.
“It is really nice to sit in a relaxed environment with the survivors and hear their stories,” LSA sophomore Ilana Beroff said. “It’s nice to have them sit with a small group of students and get to know them on a better level.”
Many of the survivors attend the luncheon each year and are part of the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families, a Detroit-based program dedicated to the needs of Holocaust survivors and their families. The program is organized by Jewish Senior Life of Metropolitan Detroit.
Some survivors had written books about their stories, while others brought artifacts and pictures from their past to show students.
“They feel so enriched to meet the students,” Charles Silow, a clinical psychologist with the Program for Holocaust Survivors and Families, said. “It means a lot to the survivors that the students are interested, that they care about what they went through and that they have the knowledge that their stories will be remembered through the students.”
Holocaust survivor Irene Miller has spoken at the luncheon for the past three years. Prior to the German invasion of Poland, she lived in Warsaw until her family escaped to the Soviet Union. After spending time in a Siberian gulag, Miller and her parents were transported to Uzbekistan where she and her sister were put in a Jewish orphanage.
When the war ended, Miller returned to Poland and was placed in an orphanage in Krakow. When she was 17, she moved to Israel where she married and later moved to the United States.
“I was very glad to have an opportunity to share my story with the younger people,” Miller said.
Stefa Kupfer, another survivor, also shared her story of going into hiding with her mother and sister. During the war, Kupfer obtained papers that said she was an Aryan and was concealed and cared for by a Christian woman in Poland.
“She didn’t do it for money and she didn’t do it for fame; she was just a good person,” Kupfer said. “Basically, she saved my life.”
Kupfer was forced to lose contact with the woman who hid her to ensure the woman wouldn’t be harassed by her anti-Semitic neighbors.
“This is a big pain in my heart that we never had a chance to say thank you,” Kupfer said. “I am sure that if there is such a thing, she sits next to God.”
After the war, Kupfer lived in a displacement camp in Austria before moving to the United States in 1952.
Following the event, students and survivors previewed an art exhibit organized by Art & Design senior Meirav Cafri, president of Hillel Arts. The exhibit features artwork from survivors and family members, and will be on display at Hillel until Dec. 8.
In addition its yearly luncheon, COTH organizes Shabbat dinners and holds readings on the Diag on Holocaust Remembrance Day in April.
“It’s an honor to do this every year,” Kappy said. “I hope it goes on for as long as it possibly can. While the survivors are still here with us, it is a beautiful event we can hold each year.”