Mar 062011
Authors: Jesse Benn

A brief memorial service commemorating the end of Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week brought a message of positive change to events often thought of as the most tragic in recent history.

The service honored the 12 million victims of the Holocaust with readings, songs, prayers and the lighting of 12 candles –– one for each million victims. A small, intimate group gathered for the services in the LSC Friday afternoon for the event. Campus Hillel Director Rabbi Allison Peiser led the memorial and said it was based partially on the Jewish tradition Kaddish.

The tradition involves commemorating departed loved ones by lighting candles and saying the Mourners Kaddish, an ancient Hebrew prayer.

“Jews who died in the Holocaust don’t have the families to sanctify their flame,” Peiser said. “This is part of doing that for them.”

According to the website for Yad Vashem, the world’s largest Holocaust museum, millions of Jewish Holocaust victim’s names have never even been recorded.

Lorie Federman, the daughter of two Holocaust survivors and administrative assistant at Har Shalom Synagogue, reflected on what the last week meant to her in an e-mail with the Collegian.

“Those survivors who are still living, the numbers of which are dwindling and their families who did not survive can only be validated and graced by the continued education and remembrance by those of us who do not suffer from atrocity,” she said. “We must carry the torch of tolerance and educate our children to do the same.”

Peiser said that this week of remembrance wasn’t just to memorialize and commemorate the dead, but to bring attention to those dying now.

“We say ‘never forget,’ but there are genocides going on right now all around us,” she said. “As Jews we have an added obligation to bring awareness, especially as a group that’s privileged in this country.”

Peiser also explained the importance of remembering the Holocaust for what it was.

“These events were caused by humans, Hitler was a person, not the epitome of evil,” Peiser said.

Despite the somber nature of the subject, Rebecca Calderon, a CSU sophomore and board member of the Students for Holocaust and Genocide Awareness, wanted to bring focus to the positive.

“Yeah, it’s to remember so many people died, but also to look at different meanings and ways to move forward,” Calderon said. “It’s about focusing on the good things in the world that we can learn from this.”

Lorie Federman relayed this positive message in her e-mail with the Collegian.

“Genocide continues, and we feel helpless,” Federman said. “And yet, my parents (both Holocaust survivors) tell so many stories of individuals who helped them in small ways in the camps, on the trains and especially after their liberation. One person can make a difference.”

The service ended with the singing of “Elli Elli,” a poem by Hannah Senesh.

A Jewish Zionist, living in what was then Palestine, Senesh enlisted in the Jewish Brigade of the British army at the start of World War II. Shortly after she volunteered to become a paratrooper and was dropped behind Nazi lines in an effort to save Jews in Hungary.

After landing Senesh, crossed the border into Hungary and was almost immediately captured. When faced with execution she refused a blindfold, opting instead to look her killers in the eye. She was 23 at the time.

Her story, as well as her poetry and writings, have made Senesh a significant Jewish figure from the period, according to Elad Bar Ilan, an Israeli tour guide.

As Holocaust and Genocide Awareness Week came to a close, Peiser wanted to remind people what they can do year-round to honor victims of the Holocaust and genocides.

“Show compassion, counteract hatred by not hating the other back,” she said. “Think about your actions and how they will affect other people.”

Staff writer Jesse Benn can be reached at

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