Students recall genocide of both past and present

For those walking along the Cut last week, the three series of signs detailing the experiences of Holocaust victims were hard to miss. The signs were intended to bring people on campus together in remembering their collective past. The organization of the event itself was collective — the signs and all the memoirs and facts that were on them were a result of the first year of collaboration between the Hillel Jewish University Center (JUC) of Pittsburgh, Amnesty International, and Allies, Carnegie Mellon’s Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) student organization.

Every year, the JUC organizes events on campus to commemorate the tragic events of the Holocaust, which took the lives of approximately nine to 11 million Jews and non-Jews under Adolf Hitler’s regime. This year’s events included screenings of the films Au Revoir and Paper Clips. Au Revoir depicts the Jews’ defiance of German anti-Semitic policies by enrolling Jewish children in schools in France. Paper Clips documents the efforts of a middle-school class in Whitwell, Tenn., to collect one paper clip for each life lost as a result of the Holocaust.

The JUC decided to imitate the project by asking students to donate bottle caps to several boxes in the University Center. The project was an effort to help the campus community understand how the Holocaust impacted the lives of millions of Jews as well as those of other groups, such as Communists and the disabled.

Last Thursday, members of the JUC volunteered to read the names of children who died in the Holocaust. Although the reading was from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., the group could not get through all the names. Members of Amnesty International and other groups also participated in the reading.

“Jewish culture is really about remembering the past, and that’s why it’s important to remember all the people that lost their lives because of the Holocaust,” said David Rush, a senior in psychology and human-computer interaction and  former co-president of the JUC. “I definitely feel that people that people are impacted by such efforts. For example, some studentsthat pass by listen to the names being read for up to 15 minutes. It is a powerful statement of where the world has been, where it is going, and how it should be.”

Yom Ha-Shoah, meaning “day of sacrifice,” is an international remembrance day of the Holocaust established by Israeli law in 1959. Every year, the holiday falls on the 27th day of the month Nisan in the Hebrew calendar. This year, Yom Ha-Shoah aligns exactly with the annual Day of Silence on April 18. The Day of Silence is a demonstration against GLBT segregation, harassment, and bullying within school communities. Participants refuse to talk to mimic the metaphorical silence faced by members of the GLBT community.

This year, the JUC opted to hold Holocaust Remembrance Week prior to April 18 because of the original day’s proximity to Spring Carnival. The group felt that the commemoration of the Holocaust would not have the same impact on the community if it were followed immediately by Carnival.

Members of Amnesty International hoped to have the same kind of impact on the community. However, while Rush emphasized that Jewish culture is a reflection of the past, Amnesty International president Nessa French underscored the importance of raising awareness of atrocities that are happening right now.

French is a sophomore majoring in philosophy.

“We put up signs in conjunction with JUC and Allies because we’re remembering a past genocide, but we also want people to be aware of current genocides,” she said.

Amnesty International aims to increase awareness of the genocide taking place in Darfur, Sudan. The organization is holding a march and rally on April 28 to increase the visibility of the issue and encourage more people to get involved.
“Never again,” one of the many messages displayed on the signs along the Cut, reflects the missions of both Amnesty International and the JUC regarding the Holocaust and the current genocide in Sudan.

Rush emphasized that it is important to take action to remind the public that the events of the Holocaust should never be tolerated again.

“You can live your entire life and never have an impact on anyone, and to me that doesn’t seem to be a life well-lived,” Rush said. “A life well-lived is one where you endeavor to understand the cultures of different people, where they are coming from, and where they have lived. It does not signify ignorance if these things aren’t known, but it is important to know what other people’s experiences are and how that has bought them to where they are now.”