Honoring the innocent, one name at a time

Elon University students, faculty and staff took part Monday in the "Reading of the Names," a daylong effort on the front steps of Moseley Center that marked the start of Holocaust Remembrance Week on campus.

They were male and female, young and old, mainly Jewish but not necessarily so. Gays. Blacks. Jehovah’s Witnesses. Gypsies. Political dissidents. Those living with physical or mental disabilities.

The Nazis killed almost anyone who wasn’t a heterosexual white Christian and often left no trace of their victims save for the memories of those who survived the German atrocities of World War II. About all that remains of more than 6 million lives are, in fact, their names.

The Elon University community honored Holocaust victims April 28, 2014, as students, faculty and staff recited names nonstop from the steps of Moseley Center during the annual “Reading of the Names,” the first of several campus events scheduled as part of Holocaust Remembrance Week.

The United States Congress established the Days of Remembrance as the nation’s annual commemoration of the Holocaust and Elon’s programs coincide with similar events at colleges and universities across the country.

“There’s a saying in Judaism, that you can make a soul come alive by saying the name of a person. People only truly die when no one ever says their name,” said Elon University senior Mason Sklut of Charlotte, N.C., who read names Monday. “I think of this as brining people to life in a unique way, reading their names aloud and hoping that people hear them.”

Many non-Jewish members of the Elon community took part in the reading, each with his or her own inspiration.

“For me, it’s remembering gays and lesbians who were also part of the Holocaust,” said Associate Professor Lynn Huber, chair of the Department of Religious Studies and one of the faculty readers. “As an openly gay person, it’s important for me to be here. And as a religious studies department, it’s important to be here to support students. This is also why I study religion – we’re remembering that religion can be violent and misunderstood.”

As the horrors of the Holocaust continue to recede in public consciousness, due to the passage of time and the deaths of those who directly experienced them, events like the “Reading of the Names” take on even more significance, Jewish leaders said.

“There are fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors (each year), which means there are fewer people who remember these names,” said Nancy Luberoff, director of Hillel at Elon University. “Each year this becomes more profound. The memory of those who perished gets further away. There are no grave markers for many of these people.”

Luberoff’s father- and mother-in-law, Eric and Dorette Boehm, both died last year. Her husband’s parents had escaped Germany but both lost relatives in the Holocaust, Luberoff said. When the couple was buried in Chapel Hill, N.C., they each reserved space on their headstone for the name of a family member who never received a burial.

“Your name has a lot of power,” Luberoff said, “which is why when someone dies, in Jewish tradition, a phrase you say would be ‘may his name be a blessing.’”