Flags planted at Colorado Mesa University to remember victims of the Holocaust

Field of Flags for Holocaust Awareness Series
Published: Apr. 4, 2022 at 8:26 PM MDT
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GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. (KKCO) -The Holocaust Awareness Series is underway this week at Colorado Mesa University and as part of the series of events, students and faculty planted more than 2,500 flags to pay respects to the World War Two Holocaust victims.

Each one of the flags represents more than 5,000 people who were killed by acts of genocide. Students who helped plant the flags say it was a humbling experience.

“Planting the flags, you’d be holding a few in your hand and just thinking about the amount of lives that that represents,” said Chloe Ross, a junior at CMU. “It grounds you.”

Sawyer Dietrich, another CMU Junior says planting the flags was an emotional experience.

“It’s definitely a sort of emotional experience sitting and every flag as you go along,” said Dietrich. “You’re counting like, 5,000 10,000 15,000.”

As part of the Field of Flags event, there was a dedicatory prayer, given by Rabbi Jay Strear, President and CEO of Jewish Colorado.

“The truth is, the six million were six million individuals,” said Strear. “Individual children, parents, grand parents, who all endured pain and suffering on an individualized level.”

Persecution is something that Strear and his family knows all too well. His family faced much persecution in the early 1900s in what is now Ukraine.

“My own family lost its life in the forests of Ukraine,” said Strear. “And yet again, Russia attacking Ukraine, enacting the atrocities of war, we have to constantly remember the loss of the past. But the vulnerability of democracy and persistence of injustice in the present.”

He says to get passed bigotry and hate, society has to have empathy and understanding.

“That element of empathy is critical for us to understand that we’re all different,” said Strear. “But if we amplify difference, it leads us to hate. If we accept and embrace our own unique qualities as distinct from others, hopefully we can embrace that with our own love and a love for others and these kinds of demonic atrocities will not be perpetuated.”

The Holocaust Awareness Series was started in 2004, by Dr. Vincent Patarino, he’s an associate professor of history at Colorado Mesa University and director of the Holocaust Awareness Series. He said he started the series, when he first moved here and found a flyer floating around, that had several derogatory, anti-Semitic words other words that were hurtful to groups of people. He said it was a clear indication that there are still cases of people in the world, who still very much discriminate.

“When I came here, I wanted to more than teach,” said Patarino. “I felt that it was important to the lifeblood of the university and the purpose of the university within the community to give back. The holocaust awareness series is one reason I did it.”

He cited a recent study which he says 65 percent of people alive today either don’t understand much about the Holocaust, or just don’t believe those events happened.

“We’ve had many genocides since. The whole notion of ‘never again’, it hasn’t been something that we can actually put behind us. And so, from my point of view, it’s important to be that educational focus, not just for the campus and for each group of students coming into the university but for the wider community as well.”

And he hopes to keep having the Holocaust Awareness Series, to keep help educating people.

“I think that this is an important reason we call it the Holocaust Awareness Series, is that people need to be aware,” said Patarino. “And hopefully this sets them to be learning a little bit more about our past and also our present and hopefully our future.”

Over the years, many of his students have participated in the Holocaust Awareness Series and he says many of them have taken it to heart and have felt the deeper meaning behind the events.

“They get something I think at a really deep level. I’ve had students contact me after they’ve been gone for years and one of the things that they remember the most is the Field of Flags in the Holocaust Awareness Series.”

Patarino says, it’s one thing to recognize a problem or issue in society, but it’s an entirely different thing to do something about it. He says that if society really wants to understand why genocide happens in modern society, then we need to engage.

“We need to be life-long learners. We need to focus on not only what happened, but what can we do,” said Patarino. ”When I put together the Field of Flags, and I put together this series, this is what I can do, what can you do?”

While the flags stand on campus, he hopes people will stop and learn about what the meaning behind the flags is.

“If I even have just one person learn and have that emotional connection to what happened and it puts them on a path to learn about our past, then that’s for me then, the whole purpose of this.”

The flags came in several different colors. Each of the colors represents a different group of people that were victims of the Holocaust. Each flag represents 5,000 people.

1,160 yellow flags were planted for the 5.8 million Jews that were killed by the Nazis.

600 blue flags for the 3 million Soviet citizens.

580 orange flags for the 2.9 million Poles (non-Jewish).

50 brown flags for the 250,000 Roma

55 white flags for the 275,000 disabled

40 green flags for the 200,000 Freemasons

20 red flags for the 100,000 communists/socialists

3 pink flags for the 15,000 homosexuals

1 purple flag for the 2,500 Jehovah’s Witnesses.

A total of 2,509 flags.

The Holocaust Awareness Series continues through April 8. For a full list of the events and seminars, please visit: https://www.coloradomesa.edu/civic-forum/holocaust-awareness-series.html

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