A middle-aged man halted his bike on the corner of O’Hara Street and University Place and asked, “What are we never forgetting?” to a huddle of students escorted by Pitt Police cars.
About 20 marchers, all dressed in black and clutching small white signs instructing onlookers to “Never Forget,” hesitated to break their silence. Finally a student in the back, a brother of Alpha Epsilon Pi, quickly uttered “the Holocaust” before following the crowd to the William Pitt Union lawn.
The “We Walk to Remember” event, hosted for the first time at Pitt by AEPi, began at Trees Hall at 9 a.m. The event was performed in collaboration with B’Nai B’Rith International’s “Unto Every Person There is A Name” program to commemorate the Holocaust. It began as a silent walk to the William Pitt Union patio and continued as a 24-hour name-reading of Holocaust victims that will continue until 10 a.m. on Wednesday.
After the walk commenced Tuesday, sophomore Gabriel Kaufman, a finance and marketing major, stood at a podium on the patio, faced the Cathedral and officially broke the silence.
“How do you count to six million?” Kaufman said. The crowd was spreading out, putting up black and silver signs against anti-Semitism and hanging a blue and gold AEPi flag on the patio.
“Each of us has a name given by the mountains and given by our walls,” he continued, transitioning into the name-reading part of the event.
He then started reading a list of the names, ages and birthplaces of Holocaust victims. Anyone who wished to read could go up to the podium on the patio and continue the reading for as long as they desired.
“I’ll take a pause so you can envision what they did with their lives, because they are more than just names,” Kaufman said.
After Kaufman, other AEPi brothers and supporters took the stand to read, sometimes pausing between names to add a comment about about their own experiences with anti-Semitism.
Andrew Zale, a sophomore molecular biology student and AEPi’s former president, said he wants this event to become a tradition at Pitt.
“As a Jewish fraternity, we all knew people in the Holocaust,” Zale said. “It was really an all-encompassing tragedy. I think that people forget just passing on the street every day what big impact the Holocaust has had.”
This year, the name reading falls on the last day of Passover. Kaufman said it was fitting, since the last day of Passover symbolizes the freeing of Jewish slaves from Egypt. Since many give up technology during this time, however, he said there will be a greater turnout in the future if they change the date to be around Passover but not during it.
Kaufman said the event is essential to remind people of the dangers of exclusion, especially because he was personally affected by prejudice this year. Vandals knocked down grave stones and desecrated the cemetery that his grandparents are buried in — Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery near St. Louis — earlier this year.
Chesed Shel Emeth was one of several Jewish cemeteries targeted by vandals throughout the country. According to the FBI, anti-Semitism motivated more than half of the 1,402 anti-religious hate crimes in 2015. In 2017, a wave of more than 100 bomb threats have been directed at Jewish centers and schools.
Ethan Silver, a sophomore chemical engineering student who is the secretary and philanthropy chair for AEPi, has also experienced anti-Semitism very close to his family. Silver said events like the walk are an important part of maintaining history.
“People were staring [at us],” he said, referring to the successful march. “[It] prevents people from pretending this didn’t happen.”
Throughout the day, visitors from other campus organizations, such as Alpha Epsilon Phi and Alpha Delta Pi, took time to stop by the William Pitt Union patio and express their support during the name-reading.
Gabriel Fruitman waited for his turn to read as twilight set in. The sophomore chemical engineering major and AEPi brother said he was there to support the values his fraternity espouses and to send a message against anti-Semitism.
“It’s important that we don’t stop standing up for ourselves and against those who aren’t sensitive to the past,” he said. “I’m doing this next year, for sure.”
Behind him, a fellow AEPi member continued reading names as the sun sank further down.
“Syoma Matz, Boris Mayev, Olina Mednik…” he read.