April 29, 2008

Cornellians Read Names of Holocaust Victims for 24 Hours

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An anonymous band of students and faculty began to read a list of names yesterday morning at 11 a.m. Although the names were read to the pace of a ticking clock, 24 hours is simply not enough time to name all 6 million on the list.
“Lova Rozenberg, Country of residence: Czechoslovakia. Place of Death: Auschwitz. Year of Death: 1944. Age: 40.”
This was just one of the many names that a young woman read aloud on Ho Plaza yesterday as she went through part of a long list of Holocaust victims. As a way to commemorate and remember those who died, Cornell Hillel organized a Holocaust vigil, in which the names of thousands of Jews killed in the Holocaust are being read for 24 hours straight. The vigil comes just four days before Yom HaShoah, the international Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Volunteers began reading names in hopes of raising awareness about the Holocaust and its devastating effects. A small tent was set up outside Willard Straight Hall under which a podium and table with informational pamphlets sat. A poster leaning up against the table read, “In order to say each name of the 6 million Jews, we would be sitting here for over 7 months.” Cornell Hillel hopes to read 24,000 names by the end of the 24-hour vigil.
“This is a very common way of commemorating those who died in the Holocaust,” said Amy Pearlman ’09, president of the Cornell Hillel Student Board. “The fact that you can’t read all the names of the victims in 24 hours is a very powerful statement.”
Over 70 people, including students and faculty, volunteered to read names in 15-minute shifts throughout the day and night. At 7:30 p.m., poems and prayers were read in order to pay respect to the deceased. Cornell Hillel hopes that the vigil will not only honor those who died in the Holocaust but also remind people that each victim of genocide is an individual.
“Every victim has a name. 6 million is just a number; we can’t forget that each person had an identity,” said Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, executive director of Cornell Hillel. “They were somebody’s brother, sister, mother, father and grandparent. Victims of genocide are people whose hopes and dreams are cut off because of who they are. It’s the greatest crime against humanity.”
[img_assist|nid=30310|title=Always remember|desc=Shai Akabas ’09 takes a shift reading the names of Holocaust victims yesterday in honor of the upcoming Holocaust Remembrance Day.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Holocaust Remembrance Day was established by the Israeli government as a way to remind people of what happened to European Jews during World War II. Some people are concerned that the memory of the Holocaust has begun to lose its meaning in the many years since it happened.
“It’s been almost 70 years since the Holocaust began in 1939 and most of the survivors are dying off. No one is going to be there to remind us about what happened. The Holocaust was the worst experience for our people and one of the worst manifestations of evil in history. We will never forget,” Rosenthal said.
Cornellians from all over campus volunteered to read names for a myriad of reasons. Some felt the need to remind the Cornell campus about the Holocaust, as well as remind themselves.
“Personally, I participated to remind myself of the Holocaust. I don’t think about it in daily life at Cornell. I’ve read for two shifts and it’s been an emotional experience. It changed my day,” said Emily Meyer ’08, former Sun co-design editor on the 124th editorial board.
Curious onlookers stopped every so often with inquiries for volunteers or to listen to names and pay their respects to the many victims.
“I was wondering what they were reading and I thought it was neat that they weren’t asking for money. It is awesome that they are taking the time to commemorate so many people that died in the Holocaust. Even though the victims don’t have any direct effect on our lives today, I think it’s still important to remember,” said Claire Chadwick ’09.
Many, if not all, bystanders were caught off guard. They did not realize that Holocaust Remembrance Day was this coming Friday.
“It caught my attention mainly because I heard the names being read. I wondered what was going on and then realized it was for the Holocaust. I think it is really respectful to make people aware of what happened,” said Mar Perez, program assistant for New Student Programs.
The vigil has been successful thus far in bringing attention to victims of the Holocaust. Organizers of the event aimed at reaching the largest amount of people on campus as possible.
“It was important to me to bring attention to Holocaust remembrance for the greater Cornell community so that everyone could stop for a second and pay attention to the people who were murdered,” said Linda Schwaber ’07, Jewish Campus Service Core fellow at Cornell Hillel.
At the end of the 24-hour vigil, a block party celebrating Israel’s independence will be held on Ho Plaza. The event, honoring the holiday known as Yom HaAtzmaut, will begin immediately at 11 a.m., and will observe Israeli culture through traditional dance, song and food; not to mention free camel rides.
“We are observing Yom HaShoah before celebrating Yom HaAztmaut, Independence Day, so we can put our celebration into context,” Pearlman said. “It’s symbolic; you must take a step back to remember those who perished before you can celebrate life.”