Brianna Jones said she didn’t entirely believe the Holocaust when she first learned about it.
“Because it’s so horrible, how could that happen?” the 16-year-old remembered thinking.
It was photos and a movie about the extermination of millions of Jewish people in Europe during the 1930s and ’40s that helped her understand the history of the genocide, and on Sunday she was one of about 20 students helping others understand its magnitude.
Outside Temple Beth El at 5975 S. 12th St., teen members of the Jewish congregation started putting 6,000 yellow flags on the lawn, each one representing 1,000 Jews who died in the Holocaust. They hoped to finish Sunday, and if not, said they would in coming days.
The project coincides with Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is Sunday. The flags will stay up until April 30.
“It’s important to have a visual representation of what happened,” 14-year-old Abe King-Madlem said. “You think about it, but you never get to see the number. And this isn’t even all of it. It helps show the gravity of the situation.”
Leah Elstein, cantor and religious education director at Temple Beth El, said she got the idea for the project from a congregation in the suburbs of Chicago, which did something similar.
“We tell them again and again how many people were killed in the Holocaust,” she said. “This is a way for them to be physically aware of that number.”
Temple Beth El Rabbi Bruce Kadden said he heard of a project elsewhere to collect and display paperclips for every Holocaust victim.
“People are trying to creatively reflect on, and trying to figure out how to represent, that incredible number,” he said. “The Holocaust is something that all human beings should reflect on.”
The yellow flags — the same color used to identify the population during the Middle Ages, Kadden said — symbolize the yellow stars used to identify Jews under the Nazi regime. Kadden noted that the figure being represented by the flags, 6 million, does not include other minorities that were killed by the Nazis.
A few people honked as they drove past Sunday, though no one had stopped to ask about the flags as the teens arranged them.
Jones said the project is important because she’s heard students at her school say they don’t think the genocide happened.
“People need to know that the Holocaust did happen,” she said. “I need people to know the story of what happened. People should drive by and think about what (the flags) mean. What it means to them as a human being. This is an instance where we don’t want history to repeat itself.”
Alexis Krell: 253-597-8268