For 24 straight hours, from 9 p.m. Sunday to 9 p.m. Monday, student volunteers took shifts standing outside the entrance to the New University Union reading out the names of individuals killed in the Holocaust.
The students carried out their vigil to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day, also known as Yom HaShoah, on May 1, and to preserve the memory of the Holocaust’s victims and raise awareness about genocides, past and present.
The Holocaust is the name history has bestowed on the systematic genocide of Europe’s Jews and other peoples by Germany’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party during World War II. The vast majority of those who were killed by the Nazis died in concentration camps set up for the purpose of conducting efficient mass murder.
Sunday and Monday’s vigil and reading of victims’ names was sponsored by Hillel, which holds similar events annually on university campuses and other locations around the world.
According to Rabbi Shalom Kantor, who works with Binghamton University’s Hillel chapter, such Holocaust Remembrance Day readings have taken place for many years, but this is the third year at BU that Hillel has staged the reading in a public, outdoor location.
The names BU students read aloud were compiled from multiple online databases and included a list made up entirely of the names of children who perished in the Holocaust.
Kantor estimated yesterday that students would read several thousand names over the course of 24 hours — a small fraction of the several million people the Nazis killed.
Roughly two students read during every half-hour of the 24-hour vigil. The students stood beneath a small, open tent in front of the New University Union, using a lectern and microphone as they read names, accompanied by the individual’s place of birth and place of death, from the pages of multiple large binders.
Alex Schwartz, a junior majoring in chemistry, was one of the students who read names. He took his shift at about 6 a.m.
“Someone needs to do it,” Schwartz said. “[Remembering the Holocaust] is still important because there’s genocide going on in the world.”
Kantor echoed this sentiment, saying that he believes students will continue the tradition of reading the names of Holocaust victim’s for “eternity.”
“Jewish tradition says that the way someone lives forever is through the remembrance of their name,” Kantor said. “We perpetuate their memory and not let them have died in vain by remembering and by doing something with this knowledge, and that is working every day to stop genocide wherever it rears its head.”
Hundreds of students marched past the Holocaust Remembrance Day vigil at around 2:30 a.m. Monday as part of a spontaneous demonstration that traversed the campus for several hours to celebrate the news that Osama bin Laden, the head of al-Qaida, the organization behind the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks against the United States, had been killed by U.S. forces in Pakistan.
Tom Fuchs, a sophomore majoring in integrative neuroscience, was on the scene, calling on the star-spangled revelers to stop what they were doing.
“This is not a good thing. This is what lead to National Socialism,” he cried through a megaphone as hundreds — chanting “U-S-A!” — marched past.
Fuchs said he hoped to offer a “negating” voice to the crowd’s fervor.
“I came out because I saw people celebrating revenge in the character of nationalism that leads to war,” Fuchs said. “Trying to find solace in the death of any man won’t bring back people’s loved ones. I’m going to come back here later today for the readings [of Holocaust victims’ names]. And that stands as my contrasting feelings to people celebrating death.”
Hardly anyone heeded Fuchs, however. Several times throughout the night, marchers invoked the memory of the Holocaust to draw different analogies.
Randal Meyer, speaker of the Student Association Assembly, compared bin Laden to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.
“It’s like celebrating Hitler’s death,” he said after leading the demonstrators in chants of “America! Fuck yeah!” in College-in-the-Woods. “It’s someone who has killed thousands of Americans, so I will revel in his death, as any patriotic American should.”
The crowd marched past the Union, chanting patriotic slogans in unison and waving flags. Several students shouted down the few like Fuchs who vocalized their opposition.
Meanwhile, Andrew Topal, a freshman majoring in political science, stood at the Holocaust Remembrance Day vigil nearby and quietly continued to read the names of victims of destructive nationalism:
“Regina Holzer. Place of birth: Nuremberg. Place of death: unknown. Amalie Holzinger. Place of birth: Nuremberg. Place of death: unknown. Jacques Auguste Hommel. Place of Birth: Thalmässing. Place of Death: unknown … “