For Ari Dekofsky, the Holocaust has a very personal, very significant tie.
Early in the 20th century, the Jewish business sophomore’s great grandmother left her family home in Poland and came to the United States via Ellis Island to start a new life. Working hard, she eventually made enough money to buy tickets for the rest of her family to join her – but not before World War II broke out. By that time, it was already too late.
In 2004, Dekofsky participated in “The March of the Living,” in which she and 6,000 Jewish teens (and even some Holocaust survivors) marched from Auschwitz to Birkenau, retracing the path those living in the internment camps were forced to march 60 years ago. Upon entering Birkenau, the names of the two million children killed were being read over a loudspeaker.
This single, significant event caused her to break down crying.
In a similar tradition Tuesday, members of Hillel, Cal Poly’s Jewish cultural club, and other volunteers read the known names of the approximately six million Jews who were killed by Nazi forces during World War II. The two scrolls from which they read represent the few who would have had survivors to attest to their name and death.
“Even though I had been to the camps and heard the names read aloud there, I still felt something when I heard them read here,” said Dekofsky, who is also the president of Hillel. “It really hits home for some people to hear names and not just numbers.
“We are the last generation to know Holocaust survivors, so it’s our responsibility to know what happened, and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”
This puts this generation in a very unique and very important position.
“It’s emotional, too. I felt bad mispronouncing their names, these people were important. But this is my heritage, so I was proud to do it,” nutrition sophomore Carly Pearl said. “I called my grandpa yesterday to tell him I was doing this. He was so proud.”
According to a sign in front of the booth, if one name was read every 2 seconds, it would take 140 days nonstop to finish the recanting. Also, Dekofsky added, if six million pennies representing the lives of those who were killed were lined up, they would span 71 miles.
Sunday marked this year’s Yom Hashoah, which is Hebrew for Holocaust Remembrance Day. For the past couple of decades, Hillel has used the same program to honor this memory, with the goal each year being to “apply it to today,” making the memory of the Holocaust relevant to this generation, too.
With that in mind, the group chose the theme “From Auschwitz to Darfur: Never Again, Never Forget” this year. The idea is that the Holocaust must never be forgotten, and that what happened over 60 years ago should never be replicated again.
Last year, the group used a similar theme, focusing on raising 60,000 pennies – one penny for every 100 holocaust victims – to be sent to Darfur in Sudan. They raised 85,000 pennies.
“The Jewish community globally is at the forefront of the Darfur campaign,” Dekofsky said. “We can’t let ‘Never Again, Never Forget’ become empty words.”
“I hope people come away with more understanding of what happened, knowledge of the event, the severity of it, and a desire to prevent genocides in the now and in the future,” said Melissa Feldman, a sophomore business major and the social chair for Hillel.
Hillel is raising money for the cause once again. By the end of the day Monday, they had collected about $50.
Both Dekofsky and Feldman stressed that people, using the Holocaust’s precedent, should not stand idly by, but should instead actively participating in trying to prevent such events from being repeated.