Selden K. Smith was the light that led Columbia Holocaust survivors in the 1970s, giving them a platform to tell their stories. His death on Feb. 12 leaves our world a little darker.
When asked by graduate student Alice Malavasic one fall day in the late 1970s about teaching a three-week course in May, Dr. Smith replied “I don’t know anything about the Holocaust,” and she said: “Well, you could learn something by May, couldn’t you?”
And a chastised Dr. Smith accepted the student challenge. That challenge changed the way the Holocaust was presented in our community.
Selden Smith immersed himself in Holocaust study and attended a forum at the Columba Jewish Community Center where several Holocaust survivors were just beginning to speak about their horrific experiences. There he met my parents, Jadzia and Ben Stern, and asked my mother to speak to one of his classes at Columbia College.
After she spoke to a graduate class of 12-13 students, Selden asked my mom if she would come again. “Yes,” she replied, “if you have more students.” The second time more than 100 students attended. This began a long friendship with all of the survivor families, including Felix and Bluma Goldberg, Cela and David Miller, Luba and Bernard Goldberg.
Dr. Smith gave them a safe platform and opened their eyes to how much good it would do to speak to churches, schools, colleges and organizations. Because of him, their legacy, their stories, their lives are known by so many people.
He was appointed to the S.C. Council on the Holocaust in 1984 and remained active until his death. He proposed intensive teacher training and advocated for students who were interested in Holocaust education. He always had a sense of justice and was outspoken about what was and is happening in our society with intolerance, bigotry, anti-Semitism and racism.
Last spring, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Smith at his home for the Historic Columbia Jewish Initiative Project. Although our focus was on Jewish Columbians, I strongly felt that Selden’s influence in the Jewish community and with the topic of the Holocaust was so deep that we had to include him in this project. What was supposed to be an hour-long interview stretched past two hours.
I will miss his stories and his impressions. But mostly, I will miss his wisdom, his far-reaching understanding of people and situations and his total devotion to teaching the lessons of the Holocaust. He was a fine man, a fine Christian and a man of honor. This is a loss to his family, to all of us who loved Selden K. Smith and to this community.
Lilly S. Filler
Chair, S.C. Council on the Holocaust
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