On Monday 4/24/06, Mississippi's only Holocaust survivor, Mr. Gilbert Metz, spoke to students and faculty at Mississippi College School of Law. Mr. Metz, a native of France who settled in Mississippi after World War II, talked about his experiences as a prisoner in the Auschwitz and Dachau concentration camps. His visit to the law school was, appropriately, on the eve of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day.
I first met Mr. Metz in a local cafe about a year ago. He happened to be buying a baguette (appropriately enough), and I was just getting coffee. He said hello, and we started talking. Two hours later, we were still talking--or rather, I was listening as he recounted his experiences. It stupefies me to think of the things he witnessed and the number of times he dodged death between 1943 and 1945; looking out at the law school audience on Monday as he spoke, I could see that many people had the same reaction as I did as he spoke of his family's executions and his own brushes with disease and death.
Mr. Metz is in his late seventies now, and not always in good health. I am glad he was able to visit the law school. His visit made an immediate impact. The very next day in my International Law class we were discussing International Human Rights, and it was the best class discussion we've had all semester. Passionate, thoughtful, provocative. It just goes to show that if you keep your nose in a book during law school you can master the material--but if you attend some of your school's extracurricular events like this one, you may really learn something. Mr. Metz's visit put the law in a more urgent and human context.
Other articles about Mr. Metz are available online here (a Mississippi teenager's interview of him) and here (a local newspaper article). A book about post-World War II Jewish emigres to America includes a story about Mr. Metz's early encounter with segregation. And a 1997 Mississippi House of Representatives' resolution honoring Mr. Metz can be linked to here. Sadly, and perhaps all too appropriately, the resolution died in committee.