A solemn walk on campus
Fraternity brothers remember their Jewish ancestors in Holocaust Memorial Walk
Students and faculty stared at Brian Kupferberg and 30 of his Jewish fraternity brothers who walked around school in a single-file line in complete silence, dressed in all black, on Monday afternoon.
As they walked around a crowded North Campus, a student in Capen Cafe broke the silence as she exclaimed to her friend: "Oh, I think it's for Holocaust Remembrance."
The brothers of Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity, a few sisters from Phi Sigma Sigma sorority and campus Rabbi Avrohom Gurary embraced the uncomfortable stares and whispers as they thought of what their parents, grandparents and ancestors affected by the Holocaust went through. The group celebrated Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, by participating in the fraternity's third-annual Holocaust Memorial Walk.
Kupferberg, a senior business administration major and the public relations spokesman of AEpi, said the odd stares signify curiosity, and that's all the group of Jewish students wanted to ignite in the UB community. He said for a lot of non-Jews on campus, the Holocaust is "out of sight, out of mind." That's unacceptable for Kupferberg and his brothers, whose family members endured tragedies that have been ingratiated in their upbringing.
"It's something that is of the utmost importance to us because if you don't remember history, those are doomed to repeat it," Kupferberg said. "For us, as long as we make sure it's in the forefront of people's minds and make sure people can remember it, that's one of the better ways for us to prevent something like this from happening."
As they walked outside North Campus, through the Natural Sciences Complex, Capen, Knox and finally the Student Union, Ethan Zisholtz, a sophomore business marketing major and AEpi's Jewish relations chair, remembered his grandfather who was forced to choose between going with his mother to a gas chamber or going with his father to a work camp. He chose the work camp in order to stay alive but never saw his mother again.
Saul Lurie, a freshman mechanical engineering major and an AEpi brother, remembered his Polish grandfather who moved to America to establish a home where his family could escape as the Holocaust began. By the time he returned, the Nazis had brought the genocide to Poland. He was told his family had been taken and killed, and he felt so bad that he killed himself.
They weren't dead. Lurie met them on one of his many trips to Israel a few years ago, and his strong connection to his Jewish family led him to join the predominantly Jewish frat and participate in the walk.
Zisholtz said he shares a deep connection with his brothers unmatched by his other friends on campus. Their Jewish faith and history brings them close together in an unspoken way.
"We all have had someone we know or have heard of [who was affected by the Holocaust]," Zisholtz said. "We don't generally talk about it, but when we do, at times like this or during a holiday, it definitely affects everybody. They all survived, and we're all here ...Thank God [my grandfather] survived because now I'm here to share his story."
Jason Kirschtel, a junior business administration major and the president of AEpi, led the line of his brothers during the 15-minute walk around North Campus.
He recalled a few emotional visits to the Holocaust museum on his past trips to Israel.
"There was one place they actually brought the pavement from a ghetto from railroad tracks and they showed people actually sitting on these stones starving and dying," Kirschtel said. "And it was like: 'Wow. I'm here. This is real.' It's something you don't want to see, but you want to see it because it happened."
There was one experience at the museum that's most chilling to Kirschtel: mountains of shoes from children who were murdered in concentration camps.
"It's really heart wrenching," Kirschtel said. "To think that a group of people could do this to not only Jews but to gypsies, gays, all these different people. It's really unbelievable that humans are capable of doing that to other people."
Kirschtel stopped the line in the middle of the Student Union. In a jubilant and lively area full of busy students, he loudly recited the names of dead children who never had the chance to have a future.