The Charger Blog

Author, Educator Shares with University Community Her Family Members' Experiences During the Holocaust

As part of the University's annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony, Chargers came together to remember the victims of the Holocaust. They learned about one particular family's story of courage and resilience, as well as why it continues to be so critical to learn about the Holocaust.

April 26, 2023

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Students light candles
Students light candles as part of the ceremony.

Daphne Geismar is an educator who plans, designs, and produces books on art and history for museums and publishers. She has drawn from her skills – and her family's history – in the creation of her own book. It tells the very personal stories of several of her family members during the Holocaust.

Geismar recently shared these important stories in her keynote address during the University's 19th annual Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony. Geismar, who spent more than a decade creating the Invisible Years, which was published in 2020, introduced the University community to her nine family members whose stories are interwoven throughout the book. In addition to sharing the experiences of individuals on both sides of her family, including her parents and grandparents, she told the University community her own story of delving into her family history.

"It was like my family members were speaking to me and speaking to one another as they never could in real life," explained Geismar, a filmmaker and designer who also volunteers with the Jewish Community Alliance for Refugee Resettlement.

'Their lives were not the same'

Every year, the University's Holocaust Remembrance Ceremony is a moving observance that endeavors to solemnly honor with the utmost dignity the six million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, as well as the millions of other victims of Nazism. The event includes a candle lighting ceremony during which students light eight candles – six represent the six million Jews who were murdered, one is for the other groups who were also killed during the Holocaust, and the eighth is for the courageous individuals who aided to those in need at great risk to themselves and their families.

"It is imperative that we remind ourselves and teach our students about our common humanity." Ira Kleinfeld, Eng. Sc.D.

Geismar's own family members were greatly helped by many such courageous people. After facing increased restrictions in the Netherlands as the reach of Nazism continued to expand, her family decided to separate for their protection, and many individuals went into hiding. While discussing her family's more than two dozen documented hiding places, Geismar showed Chargers a map detailing their locations. Children were separated from their parents, and there were Nazi raids on two of their hiding places. One of Geismar's aunts was also abused by members of a family that hid her.

"Their lives were not the same when they returned after the war," she said. "They went into hiding as children, and they came out as adults."

'Our common humanity'

In presenting her family history, Geismar also shared her own as she dove into their stories. She described the trove of primary sources she used, from photographs and letters to journals, and the emotional journey of learning and telling their stories. Her book, which includes photos, is written in their own words. Geismar's husband and a close friend read quotes from the book to help bring them to life for the University community.

"I tell my family story so we can see how dictators rise and how people are oppressed," she explained. "I also do it for my ancestors."

In addition to fostering education and serving as a tribute to the lives lost, the Holocaust Remembrance is an important opportunity for Chargers to reflect on the ethical choices we all face today. Ira Kleinfeld, Eng. Sc.D., a professor emeritus, longtime organizer of the event, and the master of ceremonies, encouraged everyone to reflect on the continued worldwide violence and genocides since the Holocaust. He reminded everyone that there is much work yet to be done to help address hate and violence.

"We must face the troubling resurgence of violent hate crimes – even in the U.S.," he said. "It is imperative that we remind ourselves and teach our students about our common humanity."

Daphne Geismar shares her story
Daphne Geismar shares her story with the University community and discusses the primary sources she used to tell the stories of her family members.
'My teachers and my inspiration'

It's a mission the University has long been committed to. The event encouraged reflection among the dozens of faculty, staff, and students who attended and took part in the event. As part of the ceremony, the names of individuals who perished in the Holocaust who were friends and family members of Chargers were also read aloud. The reading was done by local community members, as well as University staff and faculty – including three former holders of the Oskar Schindler Humanities Foundation Endowed Professorship, a position awarded to a faculty member who dedicates time and research to working with students on projects related to principles underlying altruism.

Rabbi Michael Farbman of Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven concluded the ceremony with a memorial blessing. He also further explained the scope of the impact of the Holocaust on the Jewish people, and urged Chargers to make a positive impact on the world.

"Eighty years later, and we've just begun to approach the number of Jewish people in the world that we had before the war," he explained. "We as a world have to figure out how to be better. Remember that."

Added Geismar, "The witnesses in my family are my teachers and my inspiration. May they be yours, too."