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Holocaust panel exhorts students to be on guard Cautionary message is Buffalo State theme

A panel on the Holocaust looked out at the eager-to-learn students in a Buffalo State College lecture hall Tuesday and saw hope for a future without genocide.

The panelists' message to the young people was that education, starting with their own, is the key to preventing mass murders like the ones that took place 60 years ago in Europe and 10 years ago in Rwanda and the one occurring now in the Darfur region of Sudan.

A student asked Joe Diamond, who was 13 when he and his family were sent from their native Czechoslovakia to the Auschwitz death camp -- which only he among them survived -- what he thought of Darfur, where the Sudanese government seems bent on eradicating non-Muslims.

"That's why I'm here," said Diamond, representing the Greater Buffalo Holocaust Resource Center. "I'm shocked that the American people are standing by."

After losing his parents and brother at Auschwitz, Diamond returned to his Czech hometown to find the whole Jewish community gone. He and fellow Holocaust survivors, he said, "are messengers for the people who are dead."

And whenever he speaks to a young audience, said Diamond, who has lived in Buffalo since 1948, the message is the same: "The future is in their hands. I always tell them that. You've got to keep telling the story."

Buffalo State theater professor Drew Kahn cited humanitarian Elie Wiesel's observation: "If you listen to a witness, then you are a witness."

A 2006 campus production of "The Diary of Anne Frank" offered two witnesses, Kahn recalled -- Anne, the 12-year-old Jewish girl whose book about her life in hiding from the Nazis captivated post-war readers, and a Tutsi, who lost her entire family in the Rwandan massacre.

The goal of juxtaposing their stories "was to build a bridge to you," he told the students. "You are the vehicles for change." Genocide, Kahn added, "is not a Jewish issue; it's a human issue."

The panel included Drew Beiter, who teaches a class on the Holocaust at Springville Middle School. Allen Podet, who has taught a course on the subject at Buffalo State for more than 20 years, was moderator.

Like the others, they stressed the importance of keeping the story alive to enable succeeding generations to speak out effectively against genocide.

"You'd think that the message to the world 60 years later would be clear," Beiter said. "But the forces that caused the Holocaust are alive and well."

Carrying out mass murder "depends on the ability to get people to look at other people as something other than human," Podet said. "Once you've done that, it's a hop and a skip to other things. The Holocaust is the next step."

"People watched us get on the train to Auschwitz," Diamond added. "We called them bystanders. Don't be a bystander. Get involved, because sooner or later it's going to happen to all of us."

e-mail: tbuckham@buffnews.com

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