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UA community honors Holocaust victims

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 in 2010. This years Holocaust Vigil included similar set ups.
Hallie Bolonkin

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 in 2010. This year’s Holocaust Vigil included similar set ups.

Students commemorated the victims of the Holocaust for 24 hours starting Wednesday morning at the 26th annual Holocaust Vigil on the UA Mall. Members of Hillel Center, the Jewish community and the UA campus read names, painted butterflies and helped educate others about the horrendous events that took place during World War II.

During the Holocaust, more than 12 million recorded victims were killed, with many more unrecorded deaths.

Even with 24 hours of continuous name reading, volunteers were unable to get close to reading them all. There were 96 reading slots that each lasted 15 minutes. Volunteers generally were getting through about 50 names each, according to Missy Siegel, chair of the event.

“It is so impactful to see,” Siegel said, “students take time out of their days to come and listen and learn.”

Brendan Buckman, a sophomore involved with Hillel volunteered for the 2 a.m. slot. Having been at the event since the start, he stayed awake with energy drinks and explained that he wanted to make sure the reading didn’t stop.

“Hearing all these names, there are millions and millions,” Buckman said. “It’s very shocking how something of this size was able to happen by just going under the radar for so long.”

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Six million of the recorded victims were Jewish, who were represented by yellow flags planted in the Mall. The yellow flags were the largest group, but a multitude of red, orange and purple flags represented other groups that were also victimized. Some of these groups were Polish, Roma Gypsies and gays. In total there were 1,212 flags planted in the grass, each representing 10,000 people.

The vigil also included three storage pods that showed life-sized representations of the living quarters that victims endured at concentration camps. One container showed a cattle cart where victims did not have the space to sit down, another showed sleeping quarters with tiny wooden bunks and the third had memorial candles lit for each of the concentration camps. The vigil also included newspaper articles from the Holocaust contrasted with articles from today.

“These show that oppression is still alive and we have to watch it,” Siegel said. “We really want to draw the connection to today.”

While viewing the vigil, attendees were invited to paint a ceramic butterfly for the Butterfly Project. Outside of the Hillel Foundation, there are strings of butterflies and mirrors that shine on the building, each butterfly representing one child that lost their life during the Holocaust.

Calli Bagshaw, a special education & rehabilitation sophomore and programming intern at Hillel, helps run the Butterfly Project. After graduation, she hopes to work with children, so this project caught her interest from the beginning.

“We have these cards with a child’s name on it and you can paint in memory of them,” Bagshaw said. “The whole concept, I think, is pretty awesome.”

While this will be the last year for the butterfly project, as there is no more space to hang butterflies, more projects are currently being innovated for the future. Bagshaw hopes to continue to be involved with this aspect of the vigil through Hillel.

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“I plan on being involved for the next few years before I graduate,” Bagshaw said.

Readers for the names are made up of volunteers that sign up to read weeks in advance, as well as any passerby who is moved by the event.

“I had a girl who came up to me and she said ‘my grandparents survived the Holocaust, would you mind if I read?’ and I said sure, great,” Siegel said.

Many of the volunteers that run the vigil also read. Bagshaw read on Wednesday morning, and again later during the event.

“What caught me the most was when I was reading was that there were about five in a row with the same last name and all with the same father’s name,” Bagshaw said. “They were all children and so that’s an entire family just gone, that really hit me.”

Posters were planted around the vigil with quotes from influential people, both historical and modern. Students passing by stopped to read the quotes from Anne Frank, Martin Luther King Jr. and Lady Gaga. Bikers slowed to see the flags, and students walking to class stopped for a minute to help commemorate the lives lost during the Holocaust.

Follow Tirion Morris on Twitter.

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