GW’s Jewish community remembered the Holocaust Monday night and made connections to current tragedies including the shootings at Virginia Tech and genocide in Darfur.
Students commemorated the Holocaust in the Marvin Center by listening to a survivor and creating a long, symbolic paper chain, the links of which represent the names of those who have died.
About 50 students gathered to hear stories of 84-year-old Holocaust survivor David Bayer. Event organizers, including Hillel, the Jewish Students Association, GW STAND and Allied in Pride, also displayed an exhibit that linked the Holocaust to the atrocities taking place in the Sudan’s Darfur region.
“(The event) allows the GW community to remember those lost in
the Holocaust, and at the same time provides the opportunity to reflect on the current atrocities in Darfur,” said Ben Balter, the publicity vice president of JSA. “Especially in today’s world, it is important to educate one self about the dangers of what can happen when discrimination and hatred are left unchecked.”
The event began Monday evening with a moment of silence for the victims of this week’s mass shooting at Virginia Tech, and also featured recitation of the Mourners Kaddish, a Jewish prayer for the dead that acknowledges the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust by lighting six memorial candles.
Bayer is a volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and was 16 years old in 1939 when the Nazis first occupied Poland.No stranger to death, Bayer said he personally escaped death more than once during the Holocaust – by claiming to be a chemist at Auschwitz and persevering through a death march to Germany. He even kept himself alive despite extremely unsafe working conditions in a Nazi coal mine.
“A human person was nothing, we were like garbage,” said Bayer, who spoke critically about the state of the world and relayed his experiences to the current situation in Darfur.
“The world could save these people (in Darfur) but no one cares, just like with the Jews,” Bayer said.
In the walk through exhibit, two colored chains intertwined around the room, yellow to represent the yellow stars of David worn by Jews during the Holocaust, and green to represent Darfur.
“We see a connection between the atrocities of the past and the atrocities that are going on right now in Darfur,” said Smith. “We wanted to add a shock factor with our pictures to show the horrific events that took place during the Holocaust and the horrific events that are and will take place in Darfur.” The Darfur region of Sudan has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and has been marked as genocide.
Sophomore Pam Sigelaub, a co-chair of the event along with fellow sophomore Marissa Smith, recalled the importance of honoring the Holocaust.
“I’m passionate about raising awareness for issues so pertinent in our society today, but are often overlooked,” Sigelaub said.
Many students who attended noted the importance of hearing Holocaust survivors speak as there are so few still alive.
“I came for the chance to hear a speaker (like Bayer),” freshman Christine French said. “It’s not like we’ll have that many more opportunities to hear them.”