6 million stars
How many stars are in the universe?
A professor of astronomy has estimated at least 1 octillion—which is 100 billion trillion (29 zeroes). There are probably more than that because there are galaxies we can’t see since they are too far away.
There are more people who have died in Earth’s history than are alive today. For each person living today, there are 15 dead—108 billion.
But this is less than the number of stars in the universe.
It’s Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom HaShoah). Not a new day, this day of remembrance of those who perished in the Shoah, but the ways in which it is being observed now are.
There are new Jewish rituals forming around the Holocaust, inspired ways of remembering it, now that most of the survivors have passed away. In 2015, YomHaShoah was observed in some New York City synagogues by the reading aloud of some of the names of the perished 6 million.
In the Midwest, a teacher and her students studying the Holocaust thought of commemorating the day by drawing 6 million stars, since the Jewish religion is symbolized by a star, and posted this on YouTube. It is harder and is taking longer than they thought it would—they are only up to about half a million.
How long will it take to draw all these stars?
How ironic to draw stars honoring Jewish deaths, since the Jews were forced to wear yellow stars by the Nazis during the Holocaust to identify them for persecution! The meaning of the symbol has been removed from history’s stigmatization, restored to reverence.
The Messier 15 is a globular cluster in the constellation Pegasus that has 6 million stars.
We could use these real stars to represent Holocaust deaths, instead of just drawing them.
I could be born in the year 3450, after the FTLwormhole drive has been discovered that enables us to travel beyond the Milky Way. I could be transhuman--a voice or star-being from the future. A future that may not have Jews.
There may still be so few of us alive… Jews were an almost conquered people. Will we even exist in the future? Would it matter to the universe?
Once humanity reaches beyond our galaxy, we could look at the stars more closely--use real stars to honor YomHashoah. Each star in Messier 15 could be matched with the name of someone who perished, creating a group of Jewish star names.
Five million two hundred nine—this faint blue dwarf could be named for my great-grandmother to the thirty-third power.
The star symbolizing her and bearing her name would show up on my spaceship’s screen as I catalogued it. I’d freeze the image and then say a prayer each Holocaust Remembrance Day. How long would it take to name all these stars?
Though we’d live longer in the future, I still might not get to pay homage to all 6 million.
Is there something in the way the universe is set up that decrees Jewish lives be massacred? Maybe the universe is fueled by the power of evil. I think of the Pillars of Creation, columns of interstellar matter that constantly extinguish and create stars. They look like the wooden shafts of the Torah scroll or the strokes of a Hebrew letter.
The universe is a holocaust of stars.
It’s important to distinguish fact from fiction here, because of Holocaust deniers.
Death is real. The Holocaust was real. These are not science fiction or fantasy.
I am real. I was born to parents who were lucky to survive the Shoah. But if they had not, I would not exist in this universe.
My aunt’s envelope. Another drawing that honors the dead.
My aunt wrote the names of her six sisters and one brother who died in the camps on the back of an envelope when she was in the hospital after the war. My mother kept it on a shelf in the living room.
I couldn’t find that when I looked for it. Maybe it was misplaced or thrown out by my mother, whose memory is bad now. But then my brother found this more detailed record, written on a piece of graph paper. One side is neatly sectioned off into a rectangle by two lines, headed by a word in Hungarian that I think means Testament. Within it is this numbered list:
- ELISABETH "
- BLANKA "
- MALVIN "
- FRIDA "
- MOZES "
- JUDITH "
At the bottom of the list is a horizontal line of carefully drawn small daisies, each with petals and leaves, in descending size with sticklike grass between them. At the end of this line of flowers is drawn a large semicircle, representing earth, sprouting grass marks too. Above this mound in a narrow horizontal rectangle is printed the word Auchswitz.
Inside the mound is a name with a question mark and next to that a smaller mound with two more names and question marks. Maybe these were the names of her parents who had been separated from them, whose final fates she did not know or only heard about in a neighbor’s story. They would have been my grandparents on my mother’s side, whose names I do not remember, because though my mother talked about them, she didn’t use their names much.
She also told me a story about how my grandfather was killed. I think a neighbor told her how he was shot. I have forgotten the details or repressed it.
This was my aunt’s way of remembering and burying her dead family: an incriminating record of what happened to them: a pile of bodies in a mound in a concentration camp. Burial by pencil and paper: a pencil inscription instead of an etched gravestone in a cemetery.
The rest of the page has her name, date of birth and other factual information; maybe this paper was preparation for filling out some legal or hospital form. She had been sent to Sweden, where she was hospitalized after the war, then later had come to America with my mother.
At the end of our lives, we will all be names on paper, if we are among the lucky whose names are even remembered. And in the future, we might all just be data stored or thought into some insubstantial cyberspace record, circling another star.
Lorraine Schein is a New York poet and writer. Her work has appeared in New Letters, Hotel Amerika, Vallum, Confrontation, Semiotexte, and Gargoyle and in the anthologies Gigantic Worlds, Phantom Drift, and Aphrodite Terra.