Remembering The Holocaust Dead, One By One

Volunteers (left to right) Cathi Comras, Cyndi Bemel and Karen Weinstock read the names of Holocaust victims during last year’s “Every Person Has A Name” vigil at Pasadena City Hall. This year’s 25-hour vigil begins Saturday at 7 p.m. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys

This Monday, Jan. 27, is the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. But ahead of that day, and to commemorate U.N. International Holocaust Remembrance Day, “Every Person Has a Name” — a 25-hour vigil — is being held for the second year in a row in Pasadena.

It’s being run by the Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, along with the City of Pasadena, and will take place Saturday and Sunday, Jan. 25 and 26, on the front steps of City Hall.

“The program comes out of Israel, where a day is set aside and people gather together to read the names of their family members that were killed in the Holocaust,” said Jason Moss, executive director of the Jewish Federation.

“Last year’s event was unbelievable. Our volunteers read the names for 24 hours straight. We read through 6,767 names, and this year we are going to pick up where from we left off. We will also be livestreaming the event to our Facebook page so that more people can be a part of it.”

The program is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Saturday with a commemoration ceremony that will feature speeches by Rep. Judy Chu, State Sen. Anthony Portantino, L.A. County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek, along with a performance by the Jewish Federation’s Jewish Youth Orchestra.

At around 8 p.m., Holocaust survivors and children of survivors will begin reading the names of their family members who died during the Holocaust, followed by volunteers from the community reading names for the next 24 hours.

Last year, more than 130 volunteers read the names and biographical information of 6,767 people who were killed during the Holocaust, the federation said.

For a perspective on the scale of the horror, if the same number of volunteers were to read the names of all 6 million people murdered during the Holocaust, it would take them — reading names 24 hours a day — two years and 120 days to complete.

South Pasadena resident Shelly Freedenthal, an attorney, teacher and administrator at Weizmann Day School — the only Jewish day school in Pasadena — volunteered at last year’s event and will participate again.

“I’ve done work before on Holocaust survivors and I’ve taught a class to middle-school students on Holocaust studies,” Freedenthal said.

Rep. Judy Chu at the podium last year in front of Pasadena City Hall for the “Every Person Has A Name” vigil, honoring victims of the Holocaust. Photo courtesy of Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys

“I thought it was very meaningful to see Pasadena honoring the memory of people who died in the Holocaust. We’re doing something to keep the world from forgetting these people, whose names are rarely read or said aloud. It was a good feeling, and it felt like what we should be doing. We should never forget the people who were killed.”

Another South Pasadena resident, journalist and photographer Cyndi Bemel, volunteered alongside Freedenthal last year and also plans to take part again this year.

“I participated in last year’s vigil of the reading of the names of those who perished during the Holocaust, and it was such an incredibly emotional event for me that I wanted to be involved and sign up again this year,” Bemel said.

“It is an extremely powerful, somber and personally spiritual exercise that deeply touches my heart. By reading name after name, often mentioning their age and where they perished, no victim is anonymous and every individual is remembered.

“As I read the names, I couldn’t help but think of their lives, wonder what happened to the rest of their family, and have the desire to be able to hear their stories. It’s very important to me to be an integral part of the commitment ‘Never Again,’ and broaden the public understanding about the Holocaust from generation to generation.”

The Jewish Federation of the Greater San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys’ mission is to build community by strengthening and enhancing Jewish life via programs and services that support the needs of the Jewish community in the region, and acting as the Jewish voice on issues that affect the greater Jewish community.

“It really is a powerful experience to just hear names and no other talking,” said Moss.

“Passersby were very interested and intrigued. We anticipate even more people at this year’s event. It’s not just for the Jewish community — anybody can stop by, sit down and just listen for a few minutes.”

“Everyone Person Has a Name’’ is open to the public. For more information, visit www.jewishgpv.org or call (626) 445-0810. The livestream can be viewed at www.facebook.com/jewishsgpv/