After 70 years, Holocaust survivors remember
Yom HaShoah is the formal name of the remembrance gathering. It is an annual commemoration of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews perished because they were hated and blamed for being Jews. Most were murdered. Others died of privation or abuse. The gathering was conducted to honor the companion admonitions, “Never again” and “Never forget.”
San Diego County’s 2015 Community Holocaust Commemoration was held April 19, in the Garfield Theatre at the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center in La Jolla. More than 500 people attended the event. The theme of this year’s memorial ceremony was “From Auschwitz to Activism—70 years on from the Holocaust.” (Auschwitz was the worst of the Nazi death camps, where over 1 million Jews were exterminated.)
Barbara Ostroff, chaired this year’s Yom HaShoah Committee, opened the solemn occasion, noting that she is a second-generation survivor of the Holocaust. She delved quickly into the event’s theme. “We are here to honor the dear survivors,” she said. She also said the purpose to “teach children” about those terrible, horrific times in Europe seven decades earlier.
Ostroff continued, “After 70 years, we would hope the world would be a better place.” Then, she cited the ongoing genocide in the Middle East, decrying the “perpetrators of evil.” She lamented, “We see history repeating itself. That is not acceptable.”
She introduced Bishop Sarhad Jammo and human rights activist Mark Arabo, who were there as representatives acknowledging the plight of Iraqi Christians and urging united international actions to stop the genocide targeting them.
“This is an inspiration to those of us who say ‘Never again’,” Ostroff said.
Jammo is a prelate of the Chaldean Catholic Church, whose bishopric resides at St. Peter’s Chaldean Catholic Cathedral in El Cajon.
Ostroff further described “the outrageous recent anti-Semitism at UCSD,” and she advised the audience, “Let your voice become action.”
The ceremony featured a movingly sad duo for violin and viola that was written in the Terezin concentration camp, located in what is now the Czech Republic. The composer, Zigmund Schul, died in 1944.
Eight candles of remembrance were lit. Seven were set alight by Holocaust survivors and descendants of survivors. The “Righteous Gentiles” Jammo and Arabo lighted the eighth candle, on behalf of those currently suffering genocide as Iraq Christians.
Videos depicted the recent 70th anniversary commemorations of the Holocaust in Europe. Auschwitz survivor Roman Kent stated simply the lessons that would preclude such savage evil happening again, saying, “Hate is never right. Love is never wrong.”
Keynote speaker, Dr. Steven Windmueller, traced the arcs of history set in motion from the 1930s on by the Holocaust, including formation of the nation of Israel as a safe-bastion homeland for Jews escaping persecution and anti-Semitism. He observed that as the rest of the world was accelerating into globalism, Israel and the country’s citizens and leaders were the sole inheritors of a national renaissance. And Jews had become accustomed to dealing amicably with Christianity. The recent rise of violent extremism within Islam has been a “tragedy,” according to Windmueller, “substituting a medievalist philosophy” for enlightenment. Moreover, Windmueller criticized the uses of technology for killing and destruction in terrorist acts, rather than for the good of all humankind. He discussed a global survey of attitudes, which found that anti-Semitism remains pervasive, with around a quarter of those queried holding anti-Semitic prejudices. He assessed the “assault on Jews and Judaism” as in reality “a war on Western civilization. Windmueller concluded, “The story continues. Our work must go on.”
Rabbi Leonard Rosenthal led the prayer service. Rosenthal is rabbi of Tifereth Israel Synagogue, a conservative congregation serving eastern San Diego County. Retired Rabbi Martin Lawson led the El Maleh Rachamim praying for peace for the six million who died during the Holocaust.
The Holocaust Commemoration ceremony has been held annually in San Diego for over three decades. Dignitaries in attendance included District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis and San Diego County Supervisor Dave Roberts. The event was sponsored and supported by collaborative efforts of the San Diego Rabbinical Association, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of San Diego County, the New Life Club, the Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, the Center for Jewish Culture, Jewish Family Service, Jewish Community Foundation, and the Anti-Defamation League.