In honor of Yom HaShoah—Holocaust Rememberance Day—the Columbia/Barnard Hillel hosted a commemoration ceremony Monday night, run and organized by students.
Michal Cohen, CC ’11, began the ceremony with opening remarks, followed by a letter reading, a question-and-answer session with a Jewish partisan, and a student-led candle-lighting ceremony and Holocaust Mourner’s Kaddish prayer. Later in the evening, a 24-hour name reading began at the Sundial in honor of those who died in the Holocaust.
“It’s so important for the next generation to remember and make sure that no one forgets, because if you forget, it could happen again,” Lisa Chodosh, BC '12 and a member of the Holocaust Commemoration Committee, said.
Dr. J. John Mann, a member of the board of directors at Hillel, helped fund the ceremony in honor of his mother, a Shoah survivor whose Yarhzeit, or death commemoration, is this month.
During the letter-reading portion of the ceremony, he read notes his mother wrote detailing her experiences in both the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp.
“Her life was made possible by miracles,” Mann said, alluding to his mother’s experiences during the Holocaust.
Following the letter reading, Executive Director of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation Mitch Braff introduced Frank Blaichman, a Jewish partisan and author. Blaichman answered questions from the audience about his experiences.
“I’m most proud that I survived the Holocaust as a Jewish partisan,” Blaichman said, referring to the fact that, as a partisan, he fought against Nazi Germany, despite the prospect of brutal punishment he faced.
Various members of the audience asked questions prompting Blaichman to detail his experiences with the German invasion of Poland, his decision to escape the ghetto and live in the forest, and the formation and survival of his partisan group.
“I made a vow that I would not go freely to the slaughter house,” Blaichman said. “There was nowhere to go, only the ghetto or the death camps. ... We could not surrender, because surrender meant death by torture.”
After Blaichman discussed his experiences, the Yarhtzeit Candle Lighting Ceremony began. Normally only six candles are used to commemorate the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust. This year, the committee decided to put out 11 candles, the other five intended to represent the five million non-Jews who perished during the Holocaust.
“Tonight, one of the important things that [we] wanted to stress is that there were also five million other people who died that were not Jews, whether they were gypsies, or homosexuals, or any other group of people,” Amanda Schiff, CC ’12 and a Yom HaShoah committee member, said. “We just felt that it was really important to make sure that those people were also recognized.”
The ceremony concluded in prayer, with the Holocaust Mourner’s Kaddish, then the El Malay, and finally the Hatikvah. Students then walked over to the tent in front of the Sundial to begin the 24-hour name reading.
“Anyone can come and join the readers and stop by for five minutes,” Cohen said. “It’s really just to have a public and meaningful day-long commemoration of the victims.”
“I think that at Columbia and Barnard everyone leads such hectic lives, and we kind of don’t get the chance unless we’re in a history class, or an English class, or are reading something about the subject to actually think about what has happened and where we come from and our past,” Schiff said.