Tribune Print Share Text

Holding hate and genocide in check

Greenspring resident fights for human rights, freedom

Created date

May 24th, 2011

As a young Jewish boy living in Belgium at the time of its invasion by the Nazis during World War II, Michel Margosis was forced to flee to Southern France. His long and difficult odyssey as a refugee led him to hiding out in the slums of Marseille, France, hiking through the Pyrenees Mountains into Spain, and spending time in Portugal before arriving, finally, in the United States. This life-changing experience emblazoned in Margosis a desire to end injustice and fight for human rights and freedom everywhere.

A man on a mission

Since 1993, Margosis, who lives at Greenspring, an Erickson Living community in Springfield, Va., has worked at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., which has welcomed more than 30 million visitors. He works in the Speakers Bureau where he relates his tale of survival. It was through his work at the museum that Margosis was recruited to serve as a commissioner on the Fairfax County Human Rights Commission, which recently became the Human Rights Division of the Office of Human Rights and Equity Programs. The cases the commission receives are those which have not been resolved by the paid investigating staff after receiving a complaint, says Margosis. We meet twice a month to hear the appeals and strive to resolve them in a satisfactory manner. With support from the Jewish Community Relations Council, Margosis has worked diligently in support of a National Day of Remembrance (Yom Ha Shoah) in both Fairfax County and for the whole Commonwealth of Virginia.

Learning from the past

We remember the Holocaust even as we also grieve over other genocides that in the 20th century alone include those in Armenia, Darfur, Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia, says Margosis. Now, more than ever, with Iraq, Iran, and others claiming the Holocaust to be a myth, it s imperative to make sure the world never forgets because there are others who would like to do it again. Hate and genocide must be held in check for this earth to survive. Last year, Margosis invited his friend, Vivian Watts, his delegate in the Assembly of the Commonwealth of Virginia, to accompany him to an annual Day of Remembrance in Washington, D.C. Upon her return to the assembly in Richmond, Watts proposed and sponsored a bill to annually recognize a Day of Remembrance. The bill was approved unanimously and a proclamation was issued. Margosis then turned to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors for similar recognition. I sent a proposal to Sharon Bulova, the chairperson of the board, he says. With the support of the Jewish Community Relations Council, it was approved unanimously. One of the most important things about Yom Ha Shoah programs is they allow the community the opportunity to hear and share stories of how the Holocaust impacted real lives, says Donny Kirsch, an educational outreach associate with the Jewish Community Relations Council. When Yom Ha Shoah programs are extended beyond the Jewish community, as we strive to do in Northern Virginia, we also emphasize that the Holocaust, genocide, and intolerance are not simply Jewish concerns, but rather they are human concerns, says Kirsch. For me, this is one of the things I admire most about Mr. Margosis, he adds. He not only works hard to make sure this history is not lost, but he also builds on his own experiences in working to promote the human rights of all peoples.

Future endeavors

As Holocaust survivors are a diminishing species, I consider my next task to establish this observance in perpetuity rather than to rely on some other interested party to bring it up annually, says Margosis. I firmly believe that the Holocaust is a most particularly unique example of genocide that seems to fester in the world and it should be noted as such. The fact that I was a microscopic part of that ludicrous history makes it essential for the world to know about it and learn from it.