Catholics read names of Holocaust victims during Days of Remembrance
Jun 19, 2019
Five hundred out of millions. That’s how many names of Holocaust victims, approximately, Catholics of the Archdiocese of Washington recited on May 2 at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Of the estimated six million Jewish men, women, and children who were killed, students and teachers from St. Anthony Catholic School in Washington, as well as staff from the archdiocesan Pastoral Center, pastors, religious, and parishioners from throughout the archdiocese read the names of just a miniscule percent of the Jewish people who died in the Shoah.
The reading took place as part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Days of Remembrance, a weeklong period overlapping with the Jewish Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. Falling this year on May 2, Yom HaShoah corresponds to the 27th day of Nisan on the Jewish calendar.
During the Days of Remembrance – established by Congress as a national commemoration when the museum was commissioned – the museum invites different individuals and groups to continuously read, for five minutes each, the names, birth place and year, and death place and year, of victims who ranged from mere days and months old to in their 80s and 90s.
“This morning I picked up a list that half of the names were children under the age of 16,” said Victoria Barnett, museum director of programs on ethics, religion, and the Holocaust. “Kids who were killed at the age of one... It brings the power of this event home, you realize why this is so evil.”
Visitors wandered throughout the hexagonal Hall of Remembrance as the names were read, lighting candles before walls engraved with the names of concentration and death camps.
St. Anthony of Padua eighth graders Izu Iweanoge and Richard Scott reflected on what participating in the Days of Remembrance meant to them.
“Reading those names, we are honoring those who have passed from the brutality and racism of Hitler,” Iweanoge said.
“As a student, you have to enlighten yourself on these things,” Scott said. “Standing here, saying those names, kind of punched me in the face so I can remember… It’s hard to think about.”
While acknowledging the complex roles of different religions in the Shoah, Barnett said it is important especially for people of faith to grapple with the questions raised through learning the history of the Holocaust.
“I think people of faith - whatever their faith - are moved deeply to reflect on the deeper issues when they look at a history like this,” she said. “It raises a lot of very troubling questions about what human beings can do, and also big questions. If you believe in an omnipotent God, how do you understand that in the scope of something like this?”
This engagement with history through the educative mission of the museum, Barnett said, seeks to help people recognize the humanity of communities different from their own.
“I think it’s a good thing for people of any faith to know about and engage in,” she said. “What does it mean to cross the boundaries between your faith and another, and really try to understand the other faith in a way that humanizes?”
As each victims name is read, their life and story are personally recalled.
“Every single human being who was murdered in this event had a life ahead of them, and people who loved them,” Barnett said. “It’s important to honor that and to think about that.”
An eternal flame burns in the hall before an inscription from Deuteronomy, which commands the reader to not only remember this event, these souls, and their story, but to pass them on: “Only guard yourself and guard your soul carefully, lest you forget the things your eyes saw, and lest these things depart your heart all the days of your life. And you shall make them known to your children, and to your children's children” (Deuteronomy4:9).
The latest local and global Catholic news delivered to your inbox.