Our community mourns the passing of
Dr. Selden Smith
It is with much sadness, and a heavy heart, that I share the news of the passing of Dr. Selden K. Smith on February 12, 2018, at the age of 88.
Dr. Smith devoted much of his life to justice, tolerance and combating hatred. He was truly the “father” of Holocaust Education in South Carolina. His tireless efforts to teach the lessons of the Holocaust have been an inspiration to many and his mentorship and guidance has influenced others to follow in his footsteps. Dr. Smith’s journey into the realm of Holocaust education began in the 1970’s at Columbia College where he was a history professor for 37 years. He took up the challenge of developing courses on the Holocaust at the college as well as statewide workshops for educators. He sought out survivors and liberators in the state. What quickly evolved were lifelong friendships and a dedication to remembering the Shoah and those who perished. He encouraged the survivors and liberators to speak out and share their personal stories with students and adults. This bond of over 40 years has grown to include the children and grandchildren of survivors. He was the driving force behind the establishment of the South Carolina Council on the Holocaust in 1989. He served as chair for many years and remained an active board member throughout his life.
On a personal note, Dr. Smith was the one who first approached me in 2010 to become involved in Holocaust Education. Dr. Smith’s friendship with the South Carolina survivor families will always be cherished. He enriched our lives. We feel blessed to have known and loved Selden. He led a life of righteousness and compassion. He showed others how important it is to be an “up-stander” and speak out against antisemitism and all forms of intolerance and hatred. He dedicated himself to making our community and the world a better place for everyone.
On behalf of The Selden K. Smith Foundation for Holocaust Education, The South Carolina Council on the Holocaust and The Columbia Holocaust Education Commission, we pledge to honor his memory by continuing to teach the lessons of the Holocaust. His spirit lives on in the amazing legacy he created both personally and professionally and in our positive actions and good deeds. Selden Smith, a truly “special” person, will be greatly missed. He touched our souls.
Chair, The Selden K. Smith Foundation for Holocaust Education
The Grandfather of Holocaust Education in the Midlands
Dr. Selden K. Smith was called by “father time” on February 12, 2018 and leaves our world a little darker with his death. Dr. Smith was the “light” that led the Columbia Holocaust survivors in the 1970’s and gave them a platform to tell their stories of the Holocaust. When approached by graduate student, Alice Malavasic, in the fall of the late 1970’s about teaching a May 3 week course, Dr. Smith replied “I don’t know anything about the Holocaust,” and she replied “Well, you could learn something by May couldn’t you?” And a chastised, Dr. Smith accepted the student’s challenge. That challenge changed the way Holocaust was presented and taught in the midlands.
Selden Smith then immersed himself in Holocaust study and attended a forum at the Columbia Jewish Community Center where several Holocaust survivors were just beginning to speak about their horrific experiences. At that meeting, among others, were my parents, Jadzia and Ben Stern (obm). Dr. Smith approached my mother Jadzia to see if she would come to one of his classes at Columbia College to speak and she agreed. Several weeks later, after she spoke to a graduate class of 12-13 students, Selden asked my mom if she would come again. Her reply was instant, “Yes, if you have more students!” The second audience had over 100 students. This began a long friendship with all of the survivor families beside my parents: Felix and Bluma Goldberg, Cela and David Miller, Luba and Bernard Goldberg. He gave them a safe platform and opened their eyes to how much good it would do to speak to churches, schools, colleges, and organizations. Bluma Goldberg is in fragile health and all the others are now no longer with us. But because of Dr. Smith, their legacy, their stories, their lives, are known by so many people. This was a gift that he gave them.
But he did not stop with his classroom, he was appointed to the SC Council on the Holocaust in 1984, and remained active as a member emeritus until his death. He proposed intensive teacher training and advocated for students who were interested in Holocaust education. He was always fair and had a sense of justice when discussing all civil rights issues and was outspoken about what was and is happening in our society today with intolerance, bigotry, antisemitism and racism. At our last few meetings, which he attended in his wheelchair with regularity, he would listen to the discussion with his head bowed and his hands folded in his lap, eyes closed. When we finished talking, he would lift his head and in a strong voice and with passionate conviction, give his opinion on the topic—continuing to surprise us with his clarity and overall assessment.
Last spring, I had the honor of interviewing Dr. Smith at his home. Through the Historic Columbia Jewish Initiative Project, we had been interviewing many Jewish Columbians with long histories here. I felt strongly that although Selden was not Jewish, his influence in the Jewish community, and with the topic of the Holocaust was so deep, that it was only appropriate that he be interviewed for this project. The hour long planned interview exceeded two hours with the depth of his knowledge and his “stories.”
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 to all mankind. This is a loss to this community, to his family, and to all of us who loved Selden K. Smith.
Dr. Lilly S. Filler
Chair, SC Council on the Holocaust