A crowd of students and Madison residents braved the rain and cold to gather in remembrance of Holocaust victims Monday in Library Mall.
The opening ceremony of the 2002 Holocaust Remembrance Week featured children reading poems written by other children during the Holocaust, and UW-Madison students reading accounts of righteous gentiles.
“No, no, my God, we want to live! ? We want to have a better world, we want to work — we must not die!” said one young girl, reading the words of a person who was 12 during the Holocaust.
The righteous gentile accounts included the story of a Catholic woman, Irene Opdyke, who worked as a waitress during the Holocaust. She snuck 12 Jewish friends into the basement of her employer’s house and hid them for nine months. In subsequent years, Opdyke immigrated to America and spoke out against the claim that the Holocaust never happened. She has spent the last 20 years traveling and telling her story.
Emily Engman, a university student who worked on the opening ceremony committee, explained the committee’s choice in readings.
“We wanted to show the contrast between the sadness of the Holocaust and the courageous individuals who emerged,” she said. “We wanted to show that human kindness does happen.”
Students attending the ceremony said they were conscious of the importance of remembering the victims and their sacrifice.
“I see it as a tribute to those who died,” UW junior Robyn Sotolov said.
UW senior Michael Oskin said remembering the Holocaust is important.
“I feel it’s important to remember not just as a Jew, but as a person. Hopefully the Madison community will remember,” Oskin said.
Students said they were also aware of the dangers of forgetting the Holocaust. Students said their primary concerns were identifying the consequences of discrimination and learning from this example of the manifestations of hatred.
“It’s important to think about how this happened and how to stop it from happening in the future,” Oskin said. “So much discrimination gets in under the radar and is seen as benign.”
Sotolov said finding the cause is key.
“We need to uncover the root causes of anti-Semitism and other kinds of discrimination and realize where these can lead,” Sotolov said.
The opening ceremony was followed by the commencement of a 24-hour reading of victims’ names from inside a wood and barbed wire structure. This will continue until 5 p.m. today.
University provost Peter Spear was one of the first people to read names.
“I’ve seen this sort of thing in many other universities, but it’s much more moving to participate and read the names, to see the same last name over and over and realize that whole families were wiped out,” Spear said.
Despite the solemnity of the occasion, members of the crowd said they were hopeful about the future.
“Hopefully we can think about how we can come together as a society,” Oskin said.
Spear also expressed a positive attitude.
“The Holocaust is something that affects us all and shows what happens when we aren’t vigilant,” he said. “It reminds us to work toward a world where this doesn’t happen.”