EFTA Update from Ann
All over the country, there are Yom Hashoah ceremonies taking place—but ‘ground zero’ has always been in DC at the US Capital. I was privileged to be one of the invited guests, and even more privileged to be seated in the section reserved for ‘Survivors, Liberators and their Families’. Although my own survivor parents have been dead for many years, I felt an extra measure of gratitude to be surrounded by the parents of others, and the few liberators still remaining.
Here’s a bit of the experience (in excerpted remarks and photos):
The room is hushed with anticipation. Before the ceremony began, I took a closer look at these statues of courage: Sojourner Truth, Raoul Wallenberg and the large marble statue of Freedom.
One of the most moving parts of the ceremony is the flags. Young soldiers, march into the room, holding the flags of the liberating armies. It is a moment of great respect and emotion.
Tom Bernstein, Chairman of the United State Holocaust Memorial Council, gave a courageous speech both calling out, and praising, the United States government during WWII. “In 1941, our doors were shut. Overcome by our xenophobia, we allowed our fears to take over our policies.” He praised the soldiers who served, noting that 16 million Americans served in WWII and that today, we are losing 400 per day.
Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, raised in Miami Beach, spoke about the innocent and the guilty—the righteous among the nations (gentiles who helped Jews, despite the danger) and the many willing executioners. He spoke about the roots of anti-Semitism: “With the vilification of Jews—falsely accused of poisoning wells, murdering children and even killing G-d—we have forgotten that the powder keg of hatred did not begin with Hitler. But we must not forget that just as the hatred of the Jews did NOT begin with the Holocaust, it also did not end with the Holocaust. Hating Jews has become fashionable again. In fact, 57% of all hate crimes are perpetrated against the Jews.” He went on to say that this new hatred of Jews has become a generalize hatred of the Jewish State, and sadly was able to cite many examples to prove his point.
The keynote speaker was Penny Pritzker, Secretary of Commerce since June 2013. She gave a very personal speech, using the example of her own great grandfather who, at age 10, fled Czarist Russian with his family, after Czar Nicholas and his family were murdered. She spoke poignantly and powerfully about her own family, who sought freedom and safety in Chicago, and about the impact of Hate Speech: “For every number, a name, and behind every name, a story….The Holocaust is an extreme example of what happens when we let our hate, and hate speech, determine policy.”
She went on to elaborate how Nazi hate speech was being implemented (in 1934) into the total marginalization of the Jews, with the Nuremberg Race Laws, and she cited a leaflet that read, “One should beat the Jew because he is sucking the blood of the people.” As Pritzker concluded, “Speech determines reality—good and bad—and silence is dangerous because it spreads the notion that the problems of your neighbor are not your problems. Societies do not move from good to evil overnight. Today, in the United States, we are witnessing a fear of the Other. We must celebrate the dignity of difference. We do not celebrate Hate or Hate Speech!
Every Yom Hashoah ceremony I have ever attended has, as its central set piece, the lighting of six memorial candles, to symbolize six million lives extinguished. At the Capital, precious survivors lit the candles, assisted by members of Congress.
Ceremony at the Capital concluded with El Maley Rachamim, the Mourners Kaddish, the Paritsan’s Hymm and final recessional of the liberating flags.
For me, one of the high points of the whole event was a reunion with my friend, Polish Jewish survivor Morris Rosen, who had helped identify pictures in my book, The Last Album: Eyes from the Ashes of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Morris still goes to the gym every day, doing hip-hop, zumba and staying in the kind of shape that the rest of us can only envy!