When Matt Huberfeld, a junior communication major, was 10 years old he began to learn about the Holocaust in Hebrew school. When his grandmother was 10 years old, she was living it.
"She was with her whole family in a ghetto in Poland," Huberfeld said. "There was a group of people trying to escape one night. Her mother handed her all of the money that she had and said: 'take your sister and don't turn around.'" His grandmother did just that. She went from city to city with her younger sister until she made it to the U.S., leaving the rest of her family behind.
Her parents and four other siblings were murdered.
April 19 is Yom HaShoah, also known as Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day to commemorate the 6 million Jews that were slaughtered during the Holocaust. The on-campus fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi (AEPi) hosted its 2nd annual "Never Forget" walk throughout campus. Huberfeld is a brother in this fraternity.
Dressed in all black, 30 students wearing stickers that said "Never Forget" on their chests walked silently through campus as heads turned and people began to whisper and wonder what was happening. While outsiders looked away and forgot about these passionate people marching in a straight line, these 30 students continued on. They were remembering the innocent lives that were taken away under Hitler's Nazi regime.
AEPi nationally hosts this walk with B'nai Brith, a Jewish youth organization.
"I just want people to know that we're still here no matter how many times people try to get us down, we're going to keep coming back," said Jason Kirschtel, sophomore business major and leader of the walk. "And an event like the Holocaust should never happen again. People should remember it, they should talk about it, and that's the only way you can prevent it from reoccurring."
Kirschtel's grandparents and relatives lived in Germany, and while he doesn't know much about their history, he knows that some of his family was killed during the Holocaust. His dad is the CEO of the Jewish Community Center in Rockland, and throughout Kirschtel's entire life, he's been surrounded by Holocaust survivors and liberators.
He's heard a variety of survivors speak about their experiences firsthand, including Joe Diamond who spoke at UB on April 18.
"Sometimes it's difficult for them to recall some of the harsher memories," Kirschtel said. "Everything was just very moving [with Joe]. Hearing it on a firsthand basis from actual survivors, whether they were branded with numbers or not, [causes you to think]: 'wow, this could never happen.' But it did [even though] it's hard to believe sometimes."
As Jews in the UB community, the brothers of AEPi hope to keep these survivors' stories moving and remembered. Jenny Findel, a junior media study major, was one of the 30 students who attended the walk.
She also has a survivor in her family.
The Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. paid for the survivor to fly from Israel - where she lives now - to America, in order to donate some of her belongings to displays in the museum.
Findel hasn't been able to find out details about her family's experience with the Holocaust, but after attending the walk hosted by AEPi and hearing Joe Diamond's story, she feels passionate about learning her family's history. Findel wants to ensure that the Holocaust is never forgotten and that those whose lives were taken are forever commemorated.
"I've realized that whether you're religious or you're not religious - however it is that you're connected to being Jewish - it's important to own it and be proud of that part of your identity," Findel said.
As the group of 30 students stopped for a moment of silence in the SU, Rabbi Avrohom Gurary from the Chabad on UB's North Campus stood out in his traditional black hat and suit.
"Remembering the Holocaust should inspire us to perpetuate the lives of the 6 million Jews that perished in the Holocaust by deepening our Jewish identity, being proud of our Jewishness," Gurary said. "It should inspire us to study more about our heritage and tradition, to live like Jews and to commit ourselves to rebuild a proud and active generation of Jews. This is Hitler's true defeat."
According to Gurary, the Holocaust was one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish history. Still there are people that refuse to believe in its existence.
In high school students approached Ben Vallon, a junior health and human services major, and told him that the Holocaust never happened, that it's impossible that 6 million people were killed in such a short time by one person.
"It makes me feel insulted because it's a part of history," Vallon said. "It's in text books and people don't get that it's a fact of history."
Rachel Marks, a freshman business major, describes these people as ignorant because there's historical evidence backing it up. She said that people that are insisting it didn't happen are living in a fantasy world, especially because in addition to the 6 million Jews killed, 5 million gypsies, homosexuals, and African Americans were murdered as well.
Even students that are not Jewish attended the walk to honor the beliefs and emotions of their friends. Nicholas Natoli, a senior communication major, was one of them.
Natoli attended the walk for the first time, but he's been learning about Holocaust remembrance for years. Every year Marion Blumenthal Lazan, the author of Four Perfect Pebbles, is a guest speaker at his elementary school.
Natoli remembers that his friends, whose grandparents were victims of the Holocaust, would be in tears at the end of every presentation. Nobody cries the way they did because of a fictional story being read out loud, Natoli said. He could see the pain through their tears, and from then on decided he would advocate and stand up for his friends and all of the families that are broken because of the Holocaust.
Each of these students pledged to memorialize the many victims that were thrown into gas chambers, starved, beaten, and shot to death. They promise to commemorate the families that have been torn apart - the children that were forced to leave their parents behind and the parents who were forced to watch their children burn to death. While others preach that the Holocaust never happened, these students will see the tears in their friends' eyes and the number tattoos on their grandparents' arms, and continue to promote awareness.
These students know that for as long as they're at UB, and for as long as they live, they will never forget.