Students remember Holocaust's child victims
ANNE SUTHERLAND, The Gazette / Published: Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Under a leaden sky, CEGEP students took turns yesterday at a microphone, standing in front of city hall and haltingly reading the names, countries of origin and ages of Holocaust victims.

As part of Yom Hashoah - the annual Day of Remembrance - the students were honouring the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, victims of the genocide that took place during the Second World War.

The names were read continuously from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Melissa Mancinelli, 20, had to turn away from the microphone twice when emotions overcame her and tears came to her eyes.

"I read enough to make me want to stop," Mancinelli said.

Jack Hirschberg comforts student Melissa Mancinelli, who broke down after reading names and ages of people who died in the Holocaust. She was part of a group of Vanier students participating in Holocaust Memorial Day at city hall yesterday.

"It's the ages - these kids did not do anything. I can't imagine anything so horrible, never in a million years."

For the second year running, Vanier College cultural psychology professor Jack Hirschberg brought his students to Montreal city hall to read out the names of the Holocaust's child victims as a means of personalizing the horror in which 6 million Jews of all ages were exterminated in death camps.

"This is the only way to make this real for the students," Hirschberg said. "For them, it was too long ago and too far away.

"It hits them on an emotional level. This could be a brother or a sister. The people who died are no longer abstract; this makes it real."

The students occasionally stumbled in their pronunciation of the names of the infamous camps where the children died: Treblinka, Auschwitz, Bergen-Belsen, Birkenau.

"It's horrible when you read the ages, it's very disturbing," said a clearly shaken Arouj Ahmed, 18, who also choked up at the microphone and had to be replaced.

Bill Surkis, Quebec regional director of B'nai Brith Canada, said each student read as many children's names as he or she could get through.

The "Unto Every Person There Is a Name" remembrance program was done in every community where B'nai Brith has a chapter, Surkis said.

The names, ages, birthplaces and where each victim died came from many sources: the United Nations, the Red Cross and Nazi regime documents.

"The Nazis kept meticulous records. They didn't think what they were doing was evil," Hirschberg said.

At one point, Hirschberg came forward to read the name of a victim with the same last name as his own.

He has no idea if it was a relative.

Hirschberg does have a personal connection with the Holocaust: Both his late parents survived the death camps.

His father, Abraham, was hidden in an attic by a Catholic family in Poland for six months before he was found by the Gestapo.

Abraham was sent to the Mauthausen camp in Austria; the family who had hidden him was shot dead on the spot.

Hirschberg's mother, Sara, her first husband and their infant son were rounded up and sent to Auschwitz.

The husband was killed; Hirschberg's one-year-old half-brother was snatched from his mother's arms and his head was smashed against a wall.

"As the first-born, I always fasted on the eve of Passover (by tradition) until one day my mother told me I wasn't her first-born," Hirschberg said.

"She never told me my stepbrother's name.

"The purpose of today, reading the names, is to show that people who died will not have died in vain," he added.

"Their names will always be remembered."

© The Gazette (Montreal) 2006