Students honor lives lost in Holocaust with daylong reading of names

Rebecca Reis

Students huddled overnight in front of the M.A.C. Center Tuesday, taking shifts reading from a long list of names. A picture of Anne Frank stood next to a tent where the students were reading from a large book lit by candles and street lights. Some of the students wore a yellow felt Star of David.

A student walking home approached Jacob Byk, freshman photojournalism major, to ask him what was going on.

“This is for the Day of Remembrance for the Holocaust,” Byk said. “We’re reading the names of those who died in the Holocaust for a full day.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom HaShoah, is the Jewish holiday where the Jews remember all the lives lost in the Holocaust, said Byk. Kent State students held a vigil from 1 p.m. Tuesday to 1 p.m. Wednesday where they took turns reading names aloud from a list of those who perished in the Holocaust.

Byk helped plan the event, which was sponsored by Hillel and Alpha Epsilon Pi, the Jewish Fraternity. He said readings like this go on all over the world.

“It’s essentially just a reading. It’s not even how many people are here, or how many people read or how long. It’s the concept that the people’s names are read aloud,” Byk said. “A lot of the people’s names are very hard to pronounce and it really doesn’t even matter. It’s the fact that you’re trying to relay their names and it’s a very beautiful thing.”

By 1 a.m., Byk said he had probably read more than three hours worth of names total. He said he noticed some people get very emotional while reading the names.

“The people’s names you’re reading would be alive today if this hadn’t happened,” Byk said. “They might just be complicated names for you to pronounce, but if you really look at the names and think about it these were people. They’re not just names. And when you do that it gets really difficult.”

Ricky Marcus, director of Jewish student life at Hillel at Kent State, explained that at the name reading students read as many of the 6 million victims of the Holocaust that they could in the 24 hours. He said he thinks all the students who read had a really meaningful experience.

“When you start reading off the names of the children and their ages and how young some of the children were,” Marcus said. “I think that that really has a profound impact on a lot of the students who are reading the names. I don’t think they expect to experience what they experience until they start reading the names.”

Marcus said Father Charles Christian, of the University Church of the Nazarene, also came to read the names for a while.

“It just goes to show that we had Jewish people and non-Jewish people and the people who read these names, it’s really inspiring for them,” Marcus said.

Adam Jacob, junior nutrition major and chapter president of Alpha Epsilon Pi, said he would notice patterns while he was reading the names from the book.

“You see there’s a girl’s name, age 33. Then there’s a kid’s name, age 11. Then there’s a little girl’s name, age 5,” Jacob said. “They’re all from the same country and you put it together in your head – an entire family is gone now.”

Jacob added that as he read the names he thought of his grandfather, who survived the Holocaust.

“I remember how he would talk about it and tell stories,” Byk said. “He survived to tell the stories, so I’m honoring him by reading all these names of the people who didn’t have a chance to tell their stories.”

Byk said that even though not all of the information is available, reading what is provided is still a way to honor those who died.

“You have anyone from less than a year old to 82 years old from countries anywhere from Russia … we’ve got countries in there that we’re still trying to look up cause we don’t even know the abbreviations for them. We’ve got people that don’t have full names,” Byk said. “It’s not always emotional but it’s a really awesome way to remember.”

Contact Rebecca Reis at [email protected].