U joins world to remember Holocaust

by Hank Long

Approximately 50 people gathered Monday on Northrop Plaza to listen to poetry, prayers and the story of a Holocaust survivor in observance of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“Every year on this day, we come together to remember the individuals, families and communities unjustly taken from this earth, in order to retell their story, so it will never happen again,” said University junior Elana Sondel, who organized the event. The University’s Jewish student center, Hillel, sponsored the event.

Participants read poems that focused on themes titled “We remember,” “Hope for the future” and “Never be silent.”

Yom Hashoah is observed internationally and is based on the Jewish calendar year, Hillel treasurer Sarah Stein said.

Israel begins its observance of Yom Hashoah with a moment of verbal silence, during which sirens sound throughout the country for two minutes.

During the moment of silence, all work is halted, cars pull off the road and everyone stands at silent attention in remembrance of the Holocaust victims. Also that day, six torches are lit in remembrance of the 6 million Jewish people killed during the Holocaust.

Hillel members and Holocaust survivor Victor Vital lit six remembrance candles at the University ceremony. Vital, a 72-year-old St. Paul resident, spoke about his experiences hiding from the Nazis in the mountains of Greece, where he used to live.

“We have to remember (the Holocaust) to become stronger and stronger, not to allow any more Holocausts, not only against Jewish people, but against any people,” Vital said.

Vital said he was 11 when he and his family were forced to leave their home and stay in a hidden cellar in a neighboring town.

He said they hid in the cellar and in the mountains to survive the Nazi occupation of his homeland. They survived on a diet of homemade bread and food scraps, before returning to their destroyed home after the end of World War II.

Vital also shared many facts and details about how 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews were forcibly removed from their homes, humiliated and murdered between 1939 and 1945 at the hands of Nazi Germany.

Hillel executive director Amy Olson said it is important to keep the memory of the survivors and victims alive.

“The generation of Holocaust survivors is getting older and older, and the firsthand memories are going to disappear,” Olson said.

“When those people aren’t around anymore, it is really important for the next generation to be able to pass down those stories,” she said.

University senior Demetrios Vital, who helped organize the event, is Victor Vital’s son.

“(Having a parent who survived the Holocaust) makes the Holocaust very personal for me,” Demetrios Vital said. “Most people my age don’t have survivors as parents.

“Hearing stories from the members of my family makes the need to tell a lot more personal,” he said.

University pharmacy student Mark Abdel said hearing the stories from a survivor provided motivation to keep the tradition of remembrance alive.

“You want to hear the words of people who actually experienced it firsthand, so you can know how real (the Holocaust was),” he said.