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UWF's Holocaust Remembrance honors lives lost and celebrates survivors

Josef Zeigerman (killed in 1943, Milekhovka, Russia). Grandfather of Leonid Yanovskiy.
Courtesy photo
Josef Zeigerman (killed in 1943, Milekhovka, Russia). Grandfather of Leonid Yanovskiy.

The University of West Florida is hosting a Holocaust remembrance event Wednesday in the Rolfs music hall at UWF's Center for Fine and Performing Arts. The event is aimed at honoring those who were murdered during the Holocaust and to celebrate those who survived.

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"It is definitely a memorial, but it can be a celebration for those that survived and to show the will of humankind to overcome such hardships," said Dr. Gil Fried, UWF professor and assistant dean of the College of Business, who organized the event.

For Fried, this observance hits close to home.

This is a significant personal journey for me," he explained. "I lost probably close to 90% of my family in the Holocaust. We're originally from, on my father's side, the Transylvania area of Hungary, and that later on became Romania. My great-grandfather, as an example, fought for the Kaiser's army in World War I, (and) was seriously wounded three times. Kept fighting and kept fighting. And he was a loyal patriot, and he thought that would save him in World War II, and it didn't. He was a Jew first and foremost, regardless of what he had done for his country. He was murdered at Auschwitz, as well as most of his kids and family members and his wife and all of her family. And so it was a devastating toll. And, in fact, my son is the last of the childbearing Frieds that could continue the name unless my daughters want to bring it to their kids in the future. So it had a significant impact. And because of that, I really take it to heart. For example, I still do not buy any German products, and I don't bring them into my house."

Professor Fried first launched a Holocaust remembrance event when he worked for a university in Connecticut, a region where many of the remaining Holocaust survivors live. But he found there are no Holocaust survivors still alive in the Pensacola area. And, in general, notes, they're harder to find as they age. With that in mind, he says the hallmark of this year's event is a play called "Survivors."

"It's basically a really poignant and impactful play revolving around the stories of six Holocaust survivors who were met by our playwright, Deborah Lehman, who interviewed them, went to schools when they were giving their talks, and really got to know them, and incorporated their stories into this setting," said Friend. "And it's survivors telling their story but in such a way that it engages students and cast members, and it's just very impactful."

In addition to the play, the program will feature somber music by Dr. Leonid Yanofsky on violin and Victoria Adamko on piano.

"Leonid is a phenomenal musician, and so is his wife, Victoria, who's playing the piano," said Fried. "Par excellence. I mean, the best that you can have. But he is also impacted by the tragedies of the Holocaust because some of his grandparents and direct family members associated with his dad were killed during the Holocaust, and they were killed in Ukraine at Babi Yar and some other places like that. And so this is a lot of meaning for him and it comes from the heart."

There will also be a reading of the names of those who were killed, along with the showing of their photos — a chance for attendees to put a face with each name.

"There are a number of people that are associated with UWF, as well as people that are associated with the broader Pensacola community, who lost family members who were murdered in Germany, and in Austria, and in Czechoslovakia, and in Ukraine, and Romania, and in Hungary, and in Poland, and all these countries where the Germans were helping to put forward their final solution. And so in honor of those that were murdered, we're going to be reading off their names and having a moment of silence. And what's impactful is that the people who are reading off the names are direct descendants of those who were killed. I think I have probably about 15 names of family members who were murdered."

An ending prayer of remembrance will be presented by Rabbi Mendel Danow from the Pensacola Chabad Jewish Center.The UWF Holocaust remembrance event is tomorrow evening from 5-7 p.m. at the Rolfs Music Hall in the UWF Center for Fine and Performing Arts. For more information, click here.

Click the blue 'LISTEN' button to hear the full interview

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.