Scores of people gathered to remember the Holocaust on Saturday and read the names of thousands of victims during Congregation Beth Torah’s 14th annual vigil.
Perhaps appropriately, the Remember the Names commemoration began in a darkened, intimate setting as the Saturday storms cut power at the Richardson synagogue for nearly 3 hours.
The 24-hour vigil, sponsored by the Beth Torah Men’s Club, brings a unique personal touch to the unfathomable tragedy by recalling individual victims, where they were born and when they died. Many of the names had never been mentioned in a public forum.
“I tried to whisper a prayer for each name read,” one person wrote on a wall that invited personal reflections during the vigil. “I hope their souls are somehow elevated by our remembrance.”
As a stream of visitors looked on, Beth Torah members and guests took 15-minute shifts all night Saturday and all day Sunday to read names of victims, whose scope went beyond European Jewry. Displays at the synagogue highlighted non-Jewish groups also targeted by the Nazis, including Esperanto speakers, gays and lesbians, and Albanians who sheltered their Jewish neighbors.
The readings were suspended Sunday morning to screen the documentary film Besa: The Promise, the moving story of how Muslim and Jewish Albanians protected their country’s Jews and refugees from neighboring countries during the Nazi occupation.
Doc Vrancini, executive director of the Dallas-area Albanian-American Cultural Center, spoke about Albania’s heritage of hospitality and religious harmony.
One of the vigil’s most moving portions occurred when Raye and Paul Koch, Beth Torah members now living in Germany, read names via Skype from the Sachsenhausen concentration camp — on the 70th anniversary of its liberation.
“There were no gas chambers here,” Paul Koch wrote in an email afterward. “Death came from starvation, exposure, beating and bullets.”
“We were moved that at least a few of their names were once again remembered and spoken,” he wrote, “and we were saddened that their stories likely remain untold. The power and importance of this vigil was made especially clear and real for us today: Never forget. Never again.”
Submitted by Michael Precker on behalf of Congregation Beth Torah