The power of story: Words from a Holocaust survivor and Gandhi's grandson

Apr 13, 2013

This segment was produced in partnership with Columbia Faith & Values. Find more news like this at ColumbiaFAVS.com. 

Two people with remarkable stories to share came to MU this week, and we hear from both of them in this faith and values update. Romain-Roland Levi shared his experiences in Belgium during World War II, and Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mohatma Gandhi, talked about his grandfather, along with the India-Pakistan conflict.

Holocaust survivor lives to spread love

Reported by Evan Townsend

Romain-Roland Levi visited MU to speak about his memories of the Holocaust. He grew up in Belgium during World War II.
Romain-Roland Levi visited MU to speak about his memories of the Holocaust. He grew up in Belgium during World War II.
Credit Evan Townsend / KBIA

Romain-Roland Levi was five years old when he saw the Gestapo put his father in handcuffs and ship him to a concentration camp. Though he’s lived in the United States for more than 30 years now, Levi hasn’t forgotten what happened when he was just a child. He’s been traveling the country for 20 years telling the next generation about his history and what they can learn from it.

He was in Columbia this week speaking at MU as part of a week of activities in honor of Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. 

"I try to teach the kids what is love," he said. "And not to use that word hate." 

“That word” is what Levi has been trying to slowly eliminate from the world’s vocabulary. He said only with its opposite can more tragedies be prevented.

"Love your neighbor," he said. "Love your neighbor. Very important. And when I’m saying love your neighbor, it doesn’t matter if he’s black, yellow, green, or white. We’re all humans."

While memories of the Holocaust are painful for many survivors, Levi said they are what keep him going.

"For me, it’s a mission," he said. "If I’m alive -- there has to be a reason for everything. If I’m alive that is the reason: to give lectures. Especially to kids."

Gandhi's grandson focuses on international relations, interfaith issues

Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, visited MU to talk about international relations, interfaith issues and memories of his grandfather.
Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, visited MU to talk about international relations, interfaith issues and memories of his grandfather.
Credit Bridgit Bowden / KBIA

Reported by Bridgit Bowden

Rajmohan Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson and biographer, spoke at MU’s campus on Friday.  Two MU professors interviewed him about international relations, interfaith issues, and his relationship with his late grandfather.     

Gandhi’s relationship with his grandfather wasn’t very traditional, sometimes his political beliefs got in the way.

“Because he wanted to make the whole of India and all Indians into one family, he decided that one way of helping India become one family was to make all of India his family, which meant that his children and grandchildren would be like thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of other people,” he said. 

Gandhi explained that although his grandfather wanted to spend more time with his own family, he sometimes physically couldn’t. For many years he was in prison, and we couldn’t meet him,” Gandhi said.

Although Gandhi didn’t spend a lot of time with his celebrated grandfather, he learned peaceful resistance by watching him interact with other people.

“I was kind of saying to myself, 'This man is not getting angry with people who are quite angry with him.  That’s not how I would react. But also, he is not yielding to them, he is standing firm.' So, that is what I took away from him, apart from the warmth of his embrace and his hug and his strong pat on the back, which is more like a thump on the back,” he said.

Gandhi, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, talked about the conflict between India and Pakistan.  He explained that the issues are extremely complex. 

“Jihadism doesn’t explain everything that takes place in Pakistan,” he said. “The world wants to have a very simplified understanding of what’s happening, so 'failed state' is one word that’s used for Pakistan, 'extremism jihadism' is another word used for it.  And, these phrases have some truth.  But, it’s important also to recognize different kinds of issues.”

He spoke about interfaith relations in India and Pakistan, as well. 

“I’ve come across this notion, not just in the U.S., but in other parts of the world also.  It goes something like this: all religions are sort of imperfect, but there is one religion that is uniquely flawed, and that religion is Islam.  And this is a view that has to be vigorously contested and overcome,” he said.

After his talk, Gandhi took time to chat with audience members and sign copies of his grandfather’s biography.