The Jewish Student Association read about 5,000 names of children killed in the Holocaust during a commemoration of Yom Hashoa, the Holocaust Memorial Day, in Kogan Plaza all day Thursday.
After reciting the names for six hours, students held a memorial service for the victims of the Holocaust under the tempietto in Kogan Plaza. Students read journal entries, prayers, poetry and prose written by Jews who survived the Holocaust.
“The whole idea behind the reciting of the names is to make an attempt at personalizing the whole Holocaust experience,” Hillel Program Director Karen Krantweis said. “Often when people reflect about the Holocaust, they get lost in the enormity of it. But when we hear the names of the children, we are forced to realize each one was one human, and each one was an individual with one life.”
One student read a journal entry from a Jew who was on the run and hiding from the Nazi SS. Other students read poems and letters written by a young girl in a death camp and an inmate of a Warsaw, Poland, ghetto.
“The readings at the memorial ceremony were very powerful,” freshman Alex Dick said. “When I heard the stories, poems and song, the whole thing got very personal and immediately more powerful.”
The selections described how victims of the Holocaust missed things most people take for granted. The little girl in the concentration camp wrote that she yearned to be able to enjoy nature, the sun, trees and clear-flowing streams that surrounded her home outside of the camp. One poem spoke of the simple pleasures of being able to control one’s own life, and the ability to make decisions for one’s self.
“I think reading the names of children out loud in Kogan Plaza is a nice subtle way to spark remembrance in those people who are walking by,” sophomore Jake Hodesh said. “People hear the names and read the signs and are suddenly made aware of the day’s significance.”
Thursday’s program was titled “Unto Every Person There is a Name.” The Jewish organization B’nai B’rith provides the names from a list of the about one million children who were killed in the Holocaust for participating organizations all over the world. B’nai B’rith, along with Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, are the coordinating and sponsoring bodies of Yom Hashoa. The readings at GW were organized by the JSA subgroup Zachor, which means “remembrance” in Hebrew.
On Thursday evening at the Hillel center, students watched a performance of the play “Decoding the Tablecloth,” written by Jewish playwright Gabriela Kohen.
The play, a family story, traces Kohen’s roots back to her grandmother in the late 1930s on the eve of World War II. Her grandmother escaped Europe in 1938 and fled to Argentina, were she raised her family. Kohen’s parents eventually came to the United States and raised their children.
The JSA, the Board of Chaplains, GW Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance, the Judaic Studies Program, Latin America Studies Department, Latinos for Progress, Program Board, Theatre and Dance Department and the Women’s Studies Department sponsored the production.