Panel featuring survivor finds success by reaching one mind at a time
By Al Shams
Discrimination and attempts at genocide are not merely parts of history, and the world is always in danger of seeing them flair up again.
Holocaust survivor Norbert Friedman, who was 17 when Germany invaded his native Poland in 1939, agreed during a recent discussion that economic turmoil produced the social chaos of 1920s and 1930s Germany and thus paved the way for Hitler to rise to power and carry out the Holocaust.
Hitler promised order, discipline and simple solutions to complex problems, and people accepted that anything would be better than what they were living through.
Friedman’s message: The process of economic and social chaos destroying a civilized country could be repeated anywhere the average citizen feels disenfranchised.
Friedman, who spent time in 11 concentration camps before the U.S. Army liberated him May 1, 1945, came to the United States in 1950 and moved to Atlanta in 2010. He offered his thoughts about what happened in Germany during a private conversation after a February program at the Center for Civil and Human Rights that the center co-sponsored by the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust and the British Consulate General in Atlanta.
The “Understanding to Action” panel discussion explored the moral themes connecting the Holocaust, the civil rights movement in the United States and current human rights issues around the world. Similar themes are being addressed across Georgia in April, which is Genocide Prevention and Awareness Month as well as the month of Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.
In addition to Friedman, the panel included:
- Atlanta Daily World Publisher M. Alexis Scott, who drew on the experiences and photographs of her father, William Alexander “W.A.” Scott III, a witness to the liberation of Buchenwald in April 1945, as well as her firsthand knowledge of segregation and the civil rights movement in Atlanta.
- Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na’im, an Emory University law professor and an Emory senior fellow in the Center for the Study of Law and Religion. A native of Sudan, the site of ethnic strife and genocidal slaughters in the south and the west, An-Na’im is an international human rights activist. He reminded the audience that genocidal crimes since World War II have included Rwanda, Bosnia and Cambodia.
- British Consul General Jeremy Pilmore-Bedford, a 25-year diplomat whose posts have included Qatar, Singapore, Russia and Malaysia. The United Kingdom holds the chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance this year and is working on programs worldwide to commemorate the 70th anniversary of liberation from the camps.
Dina Bailey, the educational director of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, served as the moderator.
Scott said her father, like many returning African-American servicemen, encountered discrimination in Atlanta after World War II. In one instance, a piece of his art was used in a public exhibit, but he was unable to attend the event.
Still, he realized that you cannot fight hate with hate but with love. He challenged segregation and Jim Crow laws in a nonviolent manner and imparted his peaceful philosophy to his daughter.
It took Friedman some time to come to a similar conclusion. He said that for many years after liberation he was “more cynical, less trusting and less idealistic” before he realized that the camps were the scenes of countless acts of courage, nobility, honor, love, self-sacrifice and compassion that are too often forgotten.
While Scott and her father were working for civil rights in the 1960s, Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote about his experiences, and Friedman decided that the best way to deal with his trauma was to write about and discuss his experiences.
He has been an active speaker before student groups, especially in the New York area, where he lived for many years and was honored for those educational efforts in 2001.
During one of those appearance, a student asked Friedman why he puts time and effort into such events. “If I can have a positive impact on just one person,” Friedman replied, “my efforts would be worthwhile.”
A young African-American girl rose and said, “Mr. Friedman, I am that person.”
Al Shams is a Sandy Springs resident, a former CPA and an investment professional with more than 35 years’ industry experience.