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Vigil honors Holocaust victims

Hallie Bolonkin / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Microbiology sophomore Rachel Kye, left, and business junior Jun Park take a look at a representation of a tight sleep setting within Nazi concentration camps set up on the UA Mall March 24, 2010. The German saying arbeit mach frei that hangs above this model translates to work liberates, a common saying placed above many entrances to Nazi concentration camps.
Hallie Bolonkin
Hallie Bolonkin / Arizona Daily Wildcat Microbiology sophomore Rachel Kye, left, and business junior Jun Park take a look at a representation of a tight sleep setting within Nazi concentration camps set up on the UA Mall March 24, 2010. The German saying “arbeit mach frei” that hangs above this model translates to “work liberates,” a common saying placed above many entrances to Nazi concentration camps.

The UA Mall was transformed into a place of remembrance and reflection for the Holocaust Vigil, sponsored by the Hillel Foundation on Wednesday.    

The event included three exhibits, referred to as museums. The first was a replication of a boxcar used to transport Holocaust victims. The second was a re-creation of a barrack where prisoners would have slept, complete with “”Arbeit Macht Frei,”” a German phrase meaning “”work sets you free,”” that was written over the entrances to several concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

The third museum featured a media presentation and 12 burning candles; 11 for the approximately 11 million people killed and one for “”righteous Gentiles”” who helped victims of the Holocaust.

UA anthropology junior Joel Kanter, who planned and developed the event, said the twelfth candle was especially dedicated to Stephen Tyrone Johns, a guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum who was shot to death last June.

“”Last year, we had a lot of tents set up full of pictures,”” Kanter said, “”but we weren’t sure that people who stopped and looked got the full message we were trying to convey. Now we have replicas of the barracks where people were forced to sleep and the boxcars where they were forced to travel in for days on end. It really is more interactive and gives you a much better grasp of what exactly people in the Holocaust went through.””

The Hillel Foundation also set up a total of 1,213 flags on the Mall, each one representing 10,000 deaths. They were color-coded to represent the various groups targeted in the Nazi purges. Along with the 6 million Jews killed, the flags memorialized the 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, 2 million Poles, 450,000 Roma gypsies, 250,000 disabled people, 85,000 Freemasons and Jehovah’s Witnesses and 40,000 homosexuals who were killed during the Holocaust.

“”The reason we do this event is so people never forget this happened,”” said Adam Bellos, a Judaic studies senior who organized last year’s vigil. “”This is the worst event in Jewish history, maybe in all of human history.””

Bellos also expressed his frustration with Holocaust deniers. He said he hopes that vigils such as Wednesday’s ensure those killed in the Holocaust are not forgotten.

“”There are still some people out there, some people who are anti-Zionism or anti-Semites, who try and deny that this event ever happened, that 6 million Jews were ever killed. What we want people to know is that not only did this happen, but by denying that 6 million Jews were killed, they’re also denying that almost 6 million other people died,”” Bellos said.

The vigil, which began at approximately 12:17 p.m., is a 24-hour event and will feature several speakers and film screenings, as well as a reading of the names of those killed in the Holocaust. Ed Wright, the director of the Arizona Center for Judaic Studies, began reading the names of those killed. He also spoke before the event.

“”Because of events such as these, we both honor the lost and ennoble ourselves,”” Wright said. “”Because of this vigil, reading the names of those who were lost, we ensure that the last word resides with us, not with the prosecutors who sought to erase these individuals.””

In his speech, Wright outlined three university commitments for why the time and place for this vigil were appropriate. Those commitments were keeping the memory of the lost alive, the UA’s efforts to promote diversity and the responsibility to promote justice in the world.

“”This vigil is the right and noble thing to do,”” Wright said. “”I am proud that we as an institution stand up and say together ‘never again.'””

The UA Holocaust Vigil will continue until closing ceremonies at noon on Thursday. Laura Etter, an event organizer for Hillel, estimated that more than 500 UA students would visit the vigil.

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