On Thursday the 25-person J-Soc at the University of Sheffield held an event with Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper and the attendance exceeded all expectations.

Charlotte Zoe Swead, Sheffield J-Soc President, explains her motivations behind hosting Zigi and the incredible response it drew.

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Charlotte Zoe Swead, Sam Laskier, Zigi Shipper & Sam Neagus. Photography by Taylor Fleischner.

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By Charlotte Zoe SWEAD, The President of the University of Sheffield Jewish Society.

Holocaust education is taught to year nine students nationwide. The history books recite what happened in those dark years in Europe and students across the country will stare expressionless at the pages.

After tests to examine what they have supposedly learned, these books will join other textbooks about histories long gone.

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“The Holocaust is a fierce reminder of what happens when we close our eyes to discrimination of all sorts”

With a grandfather who survived such terrors this is obviously a subject near and dear to my heart. However, I soon began to realise that most aren’t as fortunate as me.

Going from the world of JFS with its 300 students per year and extensive Holocaust education program, to The University of Sheffield with around 25 active Jewish Society students (where I am the first Jewish person many of my friends have ever met), all I received was intrigue.

The more people I spoke to the more I began to realise that having a grandfather who was a Holocaust survivor was quite a shocking rarity. It was at this point I decided that I wanted to bring a Holocaust survivor to the University…

These stories cannot be left to the boring pages of history books- they need to be brought to life.

At my first meetings with the Union Development Officer, Sam Neagus, we naively set a target to have an audience of 50 people. With the help of FLASH Sheffield and the Holocaust Education Trust, rooms began to get booked, publicity began and Holocaust survivor Zigi Shipper was booked.

150 tickets were sold in 48 hours. I even tried reloading the page a few times to make sure wasn’t going completely insane.

So a bigger room was booked and more tickets were made available. Students aren’t exactly the wealthiest of social groups, however, over £450 was raised for the Holocaust Education Trust by those who came to see the talk and made voluntary contributions.

The 12th of December came and I watched as the hall with its 370 seats rapidly filled up. There was not an empty chair.

As expected, and possibly the only certainty I had about the entire event, Zigi’s speech captivated the entire room. He spoke passionately about his own personal experience for over an hour – you could have heard a pin drop in the auditorium.

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“150 tickets were sold in 48 hours. I even tried reloading the page a few times to make sure wasn’t going completely insane.”

I’m sure that everyone came out with a different personal message. For me Zigi’s message was one of human decency. We need to realise that the holocaust isn’t a Jewish issue. The Holocaust is a fierce reminder of what happens when we close our eyes to discrimination of all sorts.

In many ways we are the luckiest generation that has ever existed. We are no longer only connected through our species, we are now connected through different governmental, social, and geographical networks.

We have worldwide atrocities flash up on our screens in HD every time we turn on the TV. We are no longer reliant on myths and ancient stories to understand our history. We have the first-hand accounts, of people who were there and experienced these historical tipping points.

No longer can we say we didn’t know, or we can’t do anything.

We are the generation with no excuses.

Find out more about Sheffield J-Soc here.

You can contact Sheffield J-Soc at jewish.society@shef.ac.uk.