Holocaust victims remembered with “Reading of the Names”

One by one, the names were read aloud, a remembrance – and a prayer – to victims of the Holocaust who in many cases left no record they ever lived. The “Reading of the Names” event organized by Elon Hillel and the Truitt Center for Religious and Spiritual Life on Monday gave the community a moment to reflect on a genocide seven decades ago that took the lives of 6 million people.

The reading coincided with Holocaust Remembrance Day, which runs from sundown Sunday through sundown Monday. On Elon’s campus, it was also a part of a weeklong series of programs to honor not just victims, but also the survivors, of a horrific campaign.

Elon’s reading was scheduled for six hours beginning at 11 a.m. on the front terrace of the Moseley Center.

If, on average, readers were to have announced one name every second reading around the clock, it would take them shy of 70 days to say the name of every person who perished. By the end of the day, volunteers had tallied just over 5,000 names.

“There are a number of students, faculty and staff who have very deep and personal connections to the Holocaust that you may not know,” said Hillel Campus Director Nancy Luberoff. “This is not history for a lot of us. This has a lot to do with who we are and where we come from.”

The reading ceremony featured appearances by notable faculty members, including Elon president emeritus J. Earl Danieley, as well as university staff and several students.

Elon junior Zach Jordan, and freshmen Rachel Stanley and Melissa Kansky, organized events for the week. “The generation of Holocaust survivors is a dwindling generation,” Kansky said. “It’s our responsibility to not let their stories leave this world.”

For students like senior Ron Yardenay, a volunteer reader, the week’s programs carry a personal significance. His grandfather fled Poland ahead of the Nazis and then served in the Russian army against the Germans.

“This is a way to give tribute to every individual,” Yardenay said. “Some of the names are grouped together as families, and you can see how many families were wiped out.”

Luberoff points to two common misconceptions that many people have about the Holocaust: That it was just Jews who were targeted when other groups (Catholics, racial minorities, homosexuals, and the disabled) were also victims , and that somehow, the Holocaust is a “Jewish” issue.

“In fact, it was a tragedy for all of human kind,” she said. “Every victim has a name. Six million is just a number. We can’t forget that each person had an identity.”

Among the events scheduled for the remainder of the week:

Hillel hosts College Coffee on April 13 from 9:40-10:20 a.m. to share information on the multiple groups persecuted as part of the Holocaust.

Hillel hosts on April 13 a Lunch n’ Learn, “The German Response to the Holocaust,” at noon in the Truitt Center where associate professor Scott Windham will speak on the German reaction to the Holocaust. Lunch is provided free of charge; RSVP to nluberoff@elon.edu.

Gizella Abramson, a survivor of the Majdanek concentration camp, will share her story of the Holocaust on April 13 at 7:30 p.m. in LaRose Digital Theatre. Yardenay’s grandfather was among the Russian soldiers who liberated the Majdanek camp.

Elon’s Amnesty International Chapter will screen Ghosts of Rwanda on April 15 at 8 p.m. in KOBC 145. The film details the suffering associated with the Rwandan genocide of the 1990s. Amnesty International will also have petitions to advocate for legislative action about the current conflict in Darfur.

Hillel will host a special memorial Shabbat services on April 16 for all students, faculty and staff. A brief service will be held in the Truitt Center at 5:15 p.m.

For more information on any of the events, contact Rachel Stanley at rstanley4@elon.edu or Zach Jordan at zjordan@elon.edu.