Name by name, student volunteers began reading a list of people who died in the Holocaust yesterday at noon as people chatting on cell phones and talking to each other bustled past indifferently.
But for the students reading, the Memorial of Names is an intensely personal experience, said co-chair Josh Samek, an LSA junior.
LSA freshman Jacqueline Wulwick came across her own name while she was reading, immediately followed by her sister”s, which she said made her understand her own family could have been affected by the Holocaust.
“That”s when you realize that it could”ve been,” she said. “It wasn”t, but if it were 50 years before, it could have been.”
During the vigil, about 20 student groups will take turns reading tens of thousands of names, only a fraction of the six million who died in the Holocaust. The vigil culminates in a memorial service at noon today as part of the University”s 22nd Annual Conference on the Holocaust.
“It helps to put a face to the name or at least a name to the number,” Samek said.
He said the magnitude of the Holocaust registers with students after they have spent half an hour reading and realize they have only seen a fraction of the names of those who died.
“Some last names continue for pages and pages,” said RC junior and co-chair Shari Katz. The names are listed in six bound volumes with additional information, such as year of death, age at the time of death, place of death and country of origin.
LSA senior Michael Masters was struck by the ages of the people whose names he read.
“Some of the kids in the book were too young to have even known their own names,” he said. “Out of a half hour of reading there wasn”t a single name over 17.” He added that it was especially poignant to read those names and ages as a 22-year-old.
The Memorial of Names has been included in the University”s annual Conference on the Holocaust since its inception in 1979.
“It is the one event we hold every year rain or shine or snow,” Samek said. “No matter what we tackle from year to year we always remember the victims.”
The theme of this year”s conference, “Consequences of Intolerance and Hatred,” tries to “expose the campus and different communities on campus to aspects of the Holocaust that have traditionally been overlooked in Holocaust education,” Samek said.
The 10-day conference features speakers and events to explore different facets of the theme.
The conference opened Monday night with Harvard Prof. Cornell West giving a keynote speech titled “Genocide and its Consequences” to a packed audience in Rackham Auditorium.
“People living in the 21st century don”t think that the Holocaust can happen again,” Katz said. “We”re trying to show that even today we need to constantly remind ourselves.” She said West”s lecture highlighted “many different acts of injustice taking place all over the world.”
The event was co-sponsored by the University”s Center for Afro-American and African Studies, which Katz said illustrates the diverse audience the conference attracts.
The student groups that have volunteered to read names also reflect that.
“It”s a very diverse list everyone from Jewish groups to groups like the Army ROTC,” Samek said.
Individuals are also drawn to the podium under the white tent.
“It strikes me every year the diversity of the people who stop and ask to read names and take five or ten minutes out of their day,” Samek said.
“Everyone who lost their lives is important and this is the least we can do to preserve their memory,” said Katz.