Vermont teens organize community event for International Holocaust Remembrance Day
Nearly 16 years ago, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution designating Jan. 27 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It's a day to memorialize the millions of lives lost in the Holocaust and to educate people about the horrors of genocide.
Later today, the town of Bristol will host a special International Holocaust Remembrance Day, an event organized by two Mount Abraham Union High School sophomores. They're twins, Eliza and Emma Doucet.
VPR’s Mitch Wertlieb spoke with Eliza and Emma ahead of the event. Their conversation is below and has been edited for clarity.
And just a note, Eliza and Emma reference a bill in this conversation, H. 0886. That bill was introduced in the Vermont Legislature in 2020, but didn't make it out of committee. A similar bill has been introduced this session.
Mitch Wertlieb: Eliza, let me start with you. What was the impetus for organizing this remembrance event? And why do it now?
Eliza Doucet: I began to plan this a few months ago. And I think it was just because I started to reach my breaking point with seeing the microaggressions of anti-Semitism and the ignorance in my community. It was never a specific moment that kind of got this started. It was just that buildup. So, I just knew that I had to do something.
"...I started to reach my breaking point with seeing the microaggressions of anti-Semitism and the ignorance in my community. It was never a specific moment that kind of got this started. It was just that buildup."
So when you say microaggressions, are you talking about having witnessed any events that were anti-Semitic that you can point to that really disturbed you?
I would say that every day in school, they are these little things. You know, in the hallways you hear people making Holocaust comparisons. And it's joking about Anne Frank. And it's just a general feeling of ignorance.
Emma, did you want to weigh in on that?
Emma Doucet: Yes. So, for me, I generally didn't know that there was a name for it — for anti-Semitism — until 2016, when our house of worship, the Havurah House in Middlebury, was vandalized with a swastika on the door.
And since then, I have become more involved in politics, and learned more about myself and the Jewish community and my Jewish identity. And so, I have become increasingly interested... this was just the next step forward, to educate in our community.
Do you think enough is being done in schools to teach about the Holocaust?
No, not at all. I think that the bill H. 0886 would be a great step forward. But even that will not be enough. I think that schools really need to be teaching the real history, even though it's hard.
And I think that a lot of people are scared to talk about it. But the only way that we can ensure that it will never happen again is to be open about the real history.
Can you talk a little bit more about that bill that you just mentioned?
So, the bill is basically a bill to acquire Holocaust education. And it is said to be an act relating to instruction on the Holocaust and other acts of genocide and mass violence. So, it would basically require that schools teach the causes and effects of history of the Holocaust and other mass genocides.
And you feel that would be an important bill, because every year that we get further away from the Holocaust, perhaps a little bit more of the history of it gets lost?
Yeah, and I think, in Vermont, we're pretty isolated to some extent. And we have a very low Jewish population. And so I don't think many people are exposed to Judaism or anti-Semitism. And so I don't think they understand it. And I think that teaching about the Holocaust is an important step forward. Although, there is still so much more to be done.
Emma, it must have been difficult to help organize an event like this, especially in the middle of a pandemic. What are the measures that are being taken to safeguard the health of the people who will show up this evening for the event?
So, masks and vaccines are required. We will be providing N95s which to all attendees. And the time inside will be limited. And people will be social-distanced. And then the main portion of the event is outdoors.
Eliza, tell us about what is on the schedule for the evening. What can people expect when they show up?
The event will consist of an educational presentation on the Holocaust, followed by speeches from second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors. After this we'll light candles to commemorate those who have died and hold a sort of vigil. There's a few readings. And it's just going to be a very somber event.
What would you say to somebody who says, "You know what, I would like to come to this event, but it's too difficult. It's too hard for me to look at things like this. It could even be traumatizing." What would your response to that person be?
I think that that's a really interesting question. Because that's trauma, that's real. And I think that it is important that we touch these hard subjects, but in a sensitive way. And everybody needs to know their boundaries. And they need to be able to educate themselves in a way that they are able to.
And that no matter what, these topics are going to make people uncomfortable. And discomfort isn't a reason not to talk about them. But legitimate trauma in it, severe emotions are definitely a reason to take things in your own way.
We also will be presenting over Zoom via a webinar. So, if some people would feel more comfortable being able to watch this in their own homes and being able to just step away if they need to, then that is an option as well as for people who need to do it virtually, whether it's for COVID or for other reasons.
How do your parents feel about both of you being so involved in this effort?
I think that my parents are proud of us. And I think that they know that we're doing potent work and they've been incredibly supportive of all of this, and it was so thankful for that.
Bristol’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration will take place on Thursday, Jan. 27 at 6 p.m. inside in Holley Hall at the Bristol Recreation Center. The commemoration will be followed by a gathering vigil on the Bristol Town Green at 6:45 p.m. To attend via Zoom, click here.