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Thursday, April 26, 2018 - 11:15am
Dobbs Ferry Campus
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The main lecture hall on the Dobbs Ferry campus was wrapped in a deep, attentive silence as Ruth Kissel, a survivor of the World War II Holocaust, spoke of how she and her family were forced out of Germany under threat of being sent to a concentration camp. Her father had already spent six weeks in a camp, and was released only when he promised to leave the country. The family, including 3-year-old Ruth, her mother and her siblings, fled to Brazil, emigrating to New York two years later.

History Club president Arielle Knapp, Class of 2019, noticed that the audience hardly took a single breath during the presentation. “As someone who loves history, I knew it would be meaningful to meet a Holocaust survivor,” she said.

Nearly two years ago, Knapp, a history education major, approached club advisor, Dr. Maureen C. MacLeod, assistant professor of history, who agreed that it would be a powerful learning experience for the entire Mercy community. “I recently read a New York Times article reporting on a study claiming that 66 percent of millennials could not identify Auschwitz or its significance to victims and survivors of the Holocaust,” she said. “If we forget these atrocities, we give rise to hate groups and dictators, and soon the remaining survivors who remember the Holocaust will be gone. That’s why it was so important to bring Ruth Kissel to Mercy. There could be no better way to fully grasp what happened than by hearing her describe her own experience.”

The club began planning and researching resources and speakers’ bureaus. Knapp discovered the Holocaust Museum and Center for Tolerance and Education in Rockland County, where Ruth Kissel serves on the speakers’ bureau. She readily agreed to visit Mercy, and the April 13 lecture was set.

Knapp and MacLeod are eager to plan more club events that provide a glimpse of living history. “History is a gateway major to many different disciplines and careers,” said MacLeod. “It’s not just dates and battle names. The study of history offers a tangible connection to humans with real lives and emotions, helping us understand what happened and why.”

Knapp hopes the lecture will inspire more students to join the History Club. “We talk about everything — politics, current events, things that are going on in the world and in our lives,” she said. “Everything we experience will one day be history.”