Loyola Academy President Rev. Patrick E. McGrath, SJ, opened the program by welcoming guests to Loyola and introducing the panelists, which included Fritzie Fritzshall, Cardinal Cupich and ABC7 Chicago news anchor and reporter Alan Krashesky, who documented the pair’s journey in July 2019.
Next, Cardinal Cupich offered an opening prayer in which he spoke about the power of words to divide as well as to console and unify: “Tonight, Lord, we gather to remember that words matter. For we know that words can spew hatred and lies and can divide society, slander and hurt,” he prayed. “But we also remember your words to us. Words that console us in trial; words that challenge us to love one another; words that assure us of your forgiveness. Let us always remember those words and make your words our own. Bridge the divide within our world, our country, our families. Bridge it with your words so that, together, we may realize we have a common heritage as your people you have called into this world.”
The panel discussion, moderated by Kelley Szany, vice president of education and exhibitions at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, continued a conversation that began in July 2019 when 90-year-old Fritzshall, accompanied by her friend Cardinal Cupich, visited Auschwitz in a quest to raise awareness of the Holocaust and share the lessons of history with new generations so that the horrors of the past will never be repeated.
Moderator Szany invited Fritzshall to offer the first remarks of the evening.
“My fear has been, and is today, that in time to come the young people are not going to be able to see or get the story of Auschwitz or other camps,” Fritzshall began. “There’s going to be a book written about the camps, there’s going to be a love story in it, because kids are not going to read the book unless it has a love story in it. But my fear is that there will not be a story left in the future. I have always been about education. And so to me going back, and especially going back with the Cardinal, has been educational. It was our way and the Church’s way and the Cardinal’s way of saying, ‘We are there for you. I am there for you. We will never allow this to happen again.’”
When asked why he chose to capture the story of this journey, out of the multitude of story pitches he receives, Krashesky spoke about the value, importance and timing of the trip.
“When I first heard about it, my immediate reaction was: we must do this. First of all, in terms of news value, when we have a Chicago Holocaust survivor and the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Chicago being willing to come together at a place like Aushwitz and share that story, that in itself has tremendous news value,” he said. “But beyond that was the aspect that we have someone who is Jewish and someone who is Roman Catholic coming together and having that shared experience at a time when in our country, and locally too, we see a rise in antisemitic incidents, we see a rise in violence that is fueled by antisemitism. We see worldwide an increase in the type of rhetoric and language that unfortunately leads people to place other groups of people into categories. For all those reasons it felt like we must tell this story.”
What ensued for the next hour between the panelists was a profound conversation that approached complex topics such as antisemitism, othering, Jewish-Catholic relations and more with grace and honesty. Fritzshall, who was just a teenager when she arrived at Auschwitz, peppered the discussion with deeply personal and moving stories of her experience as a young person in the midst of one of the worst moments in our collective human history--sharing crumbs of bread with fellow labor camp workers, being betrayed by her classmates and friends, and the comforting words that gave her the hope to hang on day after day: “Tomorrow will be better,” spoken by her maternal aunt.
Throughout the evening, attendees had the opportunity to submit questions for discussion. Guests asked the panelists about the power of faith, the experience of returning to Auschwitz, the distinction between free speech and hate speech, the impact and influence of social media, how to combat antisemitism in our world today and the role of forgiveness.
One question from the audience posed to Cardinal Cupich asked how one should approach individuals with different beliefs. “Check at the door your fear of people who are other,” he advised. “Be excited and inquisitive about people who are different. Don’t see it as a threat. See it as an opportunity to really get to know something different. We can’t live in our own little silos.”
To close the evening, Rabbi Sam Gordon of Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette shared a classic Jewish folktale that demonstrates the power of words: “Once they leave your mouth, they can never be recovered,” said Rabbi Sam. “Words have consequences in ways that may never have been intended. ...So we pray, eternal our God, God of our fathers and mothers, give us the gift of discernment, which allows us to distinguish between truth and falsehood. Give us the gift of empathy and compassion, which allows us to see that each one of us is a brother or sister to each other. Allow us to see that each human being is a container of the divine breath, and that we are each the vessels that carry you within us. To deny the dignity and humanity of anyone of us denies the presence of the eternal in ourselves and the other.”
To listen to a full audio recording of the evening, click here.
This event was sponsored by Loyola Academy and the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center. For more information, visit goramblers.org/wordsmatter or contact Vice President of Mission and Ministry Gary Marando at 847.920.2407.