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ODU Holds Yom HaShoah Holocaust Remembrance Reception

Jay Ipson and President Broderick(L to R) Jay Ipson, Ben Ipson and ODU President John R. Broderick Jay IpsonJay Ipson addresses Yom HaShoah reception attendees

Jay Ipson, a survivor of the Kovno ghetto in Lithuania who later co-founded the Virginia Holocaust Museum in Richmond, was the featured speaker at a Yom HaShoah remembrance reception Monday at Old Dominion University.

The event was organized by the ODU Office of Intercultural Relations and Ipson's grandson Ben Ipson, a junior history major at the university. About 60 people attended the mid-day event, including eight students from the Toras Chaim School in Portsmouth and another 14 students from Bina High School in Norfolk.

Yom HaShoah is the Holocaust Day of Remembrance and Monday's event was geared toward educating the community about the history of the Holocaust in order to prevent future genocides.

Jay Ispon was a 6 year old when the Nazis rose to power in Europe and began a systematic program of extermination that eventually resulted in the deaths of about 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, by the end of World War II.

"Every step of Lithuanian soil is covered with Jewish blood," he told the crowd.

Ipson, whose family was interred in the Kovno ghetto, explained to attendees the difference between a "ghetto" and the more historically familiar concept of a "concentration camp."

"They are both the same," he explained, except that a ghetto was a segregated neighborhood for the local population, whereas a concentration camp was where the Nazis sent people from all over.

"They starve you in both. They work you in both. They kill you in both," he said.

Ipson was able to escape imprisonment with his mother and father in 1943. The family eventually hid with 10 other extended family members in a homemade bunker below a potato field, where they stayed until Russian soldiers liberated them in 1944.

During that time, the group "never saw daylight" and Ipson learned addition by counting the lice that covered his body, he said.

He eventually immigrated to the United States with his parents and continued an effort started by his father to educate the public about the horrors of the Holocaust. That led to the founding of the Virginia Holocaust Museum in the 1990s.

Rabbi Gershon Litt, executive director of the Norfolk Area Community Kollel, spoke briefly at the ODU program. He said the point of Yom HaShoah is to "think, recall and remember," but also to inspire and give strength to the Jewish people.

"The Jewish people were not broken," he said. "We are alive. Today is a day of remembrance, but also to look into the future and realize what we have."

Shari Berman, PTA president of the Toras Chaim School, said it was important for the students to hear from a survivor.

"To hear firsthand really is the best way for the kids to learn about the Holocaust," she said.

To learn more about the Virginia Holocaust Museum, go here.