David Markovich, founding president of Hillel at John Carroll University, is proud of his grandfather, a Holocaust survivor who died six months ago.
That pride came through clearly during JCU’s first Holocaust Remembrance Day April 8 at the university’s Dolan Center of Science and Technology in University Heights. About 75 people attended.
During a 35-minute memorial ceremony led by Markovich, a JCU junior from Beachwood, he spoke about his grandfather, Isaac Mordechai Markovich, who was 22 when he and his family were displaced from their family farm in Ukraine.
“They were forced into a Jewish ghetto by the Nazi government,” he said. “Conditions there were brutal.”
Isaac was eventually sent to the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp in Austria, where he was forced to perform “hours of back-breaking labor each day” while enduring malnutrition, overcrowding and physical and emotional abuse from Nazi guards, Markovich said.
“Prisoners of the camp were forced to carry blocks of stone weighing as much as 110 pounds up a large staircase,” he said. “This led to injury and mortality rates so high that the camp gained the nickname, ‘Stairs of Death.’ ”
By the time the camp was liberated by American soldiers on May 5, 1945, more than 200,000 of its inmates had died, Markovich said. Only two of Isaac’s six brothers survived.
“After being liberated, Isaac Mordechai went back to living in Ukraine until 1979, when he immigrated to the United States,” he said. “His family members who came with him began joyfully embracing his other family members who had come to America years earlier.”
Meanwhile, Isaac embraced the doorman of the facility “he had just arrived in,” Markovich said.
“When his family members asked him why he was hugging a stranger, Isaac Mordechai said while he may not have been the man’s blood relative, as far as he was concerned, all Americans were his family members now, because of the gratitude he felt for the country that liberated him and his surviving family members,” he said.
Markovich, 20, said he was very close to his grandfather, and that most of the information in his talk came directly from Isaac.
“I visited him frequently at his home and would ask him questions about his experience,” he said.
“As his proud grandson, I’ve been given the honor and privilege of starting a chapter of Cleveland Hillel here at JCU. The staff of both the Cleveland Hillel Foundation and the university have been nothing but supportive and enthusiastic about bringing the organization to campus.”
The program also included a candle-lighting ceremony. Each of the six candles lit represented one million of the six million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.
Among those who lit candles were two fellow JCU students: Nicolle Simonovic, a freshman and Jewish student from University Heights who is a member of Hillel at JCU, and Zach Cochran, a senior from Shaker Heights.
The other candles were lit by Gail Roussey, campus minister at the university; Tim Misny, personal-injury lawyer and a 1977 JCU graduate; University Heights Mayor Susan Infeld; and Penny Harris, professor and chair of the department of sociology and criminology at JCU.
After all the candles were lit, a moment was silence was observed for those who lost their lives during the Holocaust.
Gary Coleman, executive director of the Cleveland Hillel Foundation, led the reading of Psalm 23, a memorial prayer for Holocaust victims and the Mourners’ Kaddish.
The second part of the program was a presentation by Fern Ruth Levy, a Jewish educator who specializes in Holocaust history, titled “Am I My Neighbor’s Keeper? Dynamics of Moral Courage for Holocaust Rescuers.”
Levy, a former instructor at JCU, is director and founder of the Anne Frank Moral Courage Project of Cleveland.
The event was part of a weeklong Celebration of Scholarship at JCU. The university’s department of theology and religious studies was one of several sponsors.