A harrowing historical period like the Holocaust can seem far removed from life on the Hill, making the actions of the heroes who resisted appear irrelevant in modern daily life. Sometimes, though, acts of hatred strike close to home and remind us that injustice and resistance are still timely topics.
For students seeking inspiration to speak out against violence, a campus visit by Holocaust witnesses Nelly Trocme-Hewett and Louise Dillery on Thursday, April 25, offered just the occasion.
Hewett and Dillery were children in France during World War II. Hewett, daughter of pastor and theologian Andre Trocme, lived in Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Her community worked with other villages in the area to shelter over 3,000 Jews during the war. Dillery lived with her family in Paris. Because of the family’s Jewish ancestry, Dillery’s father was arrested by the Nazis. She credits her own survival to friends and strangers who stepped up to help.
Hewett began Thursday’s presentation by asking the audience for examples of nonviolent, positive action in history. Students called out names like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and Ghandi. Hewett then suggested a larger example.
“Think of Jesus Christ,” said Hewett, echoing her father’s view that the Christian faith requires nonviolent resistance to injustice.
After both women shared their stories, Professor of Political Science Kris Thalhammer selected several student questions. Many students wanted the women’s take on modern-day human rights abuses. Hewett and Dillery expressed their discouragement that so little has changed over the years.
“At the end of World War II, we were so certain that we were entering a new era,” Dillery said. “It’s a heartbreaker to see [human rights abuses] still going on.”
Hewett offered an opportunity for self-reflection. “The United States has to look at ourselves, too,” she said. “We’re just as bad as everybody else.”
However, both women emphasized young people’s ability to make a difference in the fight against injustice. Dillery commented on the increased opportunities for resistance that technological advances offer.
Referencing the “age of communication,” Dillery pointed out that people today have better access to information about injustices. Hewett added that many opportunities to act exist as close as Northfield and the St. Olaf campus.
Making one final plea to the students, Dillery closed her narrative by predicting a better future for society.
“No little sign of goodness should ever be forgotten,” she said. “I’m begging you young people, stay on the side of the force of good . . . keep your hearts pure and the future will be good, thanks to you.”
As the world responds to violence on an international scale and students respond to injustice right here on the Hill, the message of these two Holocaust witnesses empowers individuals to stand up for human rights.