2,500 People Mark Yom Ha-shoah and the 40th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Some 2,500 people, many of them survivors of Nazi concentration camps and others who fought in ghetto resistance movements during World War II, today gathered at Temple Emanu-EI for the annual ceremonies marking Yom Ha-Shoah and the 40th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Despite the torrential rainstorm outside, the sanctuary was filled to near capacity for the somber commemoration. But the weather had its effect. The bleechers which were erected across from the synagogue along Fifth Avenue were empty. Usually, hundreds of people, curious passersby and others unable to gain entry into the synagogue, listen to the ceremony which is amplified through large speakers.

The many speakers who addressed those gathered focused today on the need to remember and retell the story of the Holocaust. Governor Mario Cuomo of New York asserted that many remain “uncomfortable with hearing the truth” of what he termed “the war against the Jews.” In an effort to explain why people are so willing to forget the Holocaust, Cuomo suggested two possible reasons.

THE DISEASE OF ANTI-SEMITISM

First, he said, because of persistent anti-Semitism. Cuomo called anti-Semitism a disease which never leaves but waits for an opportunity to rear its ugly hand. “It may appear with different ideology, justification or various terminology,” Cuomo said. But overall, he continued, anti-Semitism continues to be used by people whereby “Jews are accused for being Jews, Jews (are) denied the right to be a people, singled out, vilified, persecuted and inevitably threatened with extinction.”

Secondly, Cuomo suggested that all those who were responsible for “aiding and abetting” the Nazi war machine would like to see the memory of the Holocaust erased. Specifically, he said, these are the many clerks, stockkeepers, and others who were responsible for keeping the records and documentation of the number of shoes or the amount of gold taken from the teeth of Holocaust victims.

“The truth is that the barbarians by whose hands the atrocities occurred were aided and abetted by armies of people who chose not to oppose” Nazism and the attempt to liquidate the Jewish people, Cuomo said. He said these are the people “who had mouths but did not speak, ears but did no hear, eyes but did not see.”

REASONS TO REMEMBER THE HOLOCAUST

Rep. Sam Gejdenson (D. Conn.), who was born in a DP camp in Germany, stressed another element in the need to remember the Holocaust. He said that if the life and culture that the Jews of Eastern Europe gave to the world is forgotten or not renewed and strengthened through continuity, then Hitler and his cohorts will indeed have won after all. While the horrors of the Holocaust cannot be undone, he continued, they must be remembered so that the proper lessons can be learned.

Gejdenson asserted that one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that “Jewish security and safety can only be guaranteed by a proud people prepared to defend its existence. Our commitment to Israel is deep and profound. It serves not merely as a haven to the oppressed … but as a reassertion of life in a world” of indifference.

With Metropolitan Opera tenor Misha Raitzin chanting memorial prayers and ghetto songs, 200 survivors of Nazi concentration camps, wearing white shirts lit six rows of 36 candles, using the multiple of six to symbolize the six million Jews who perished during the Holocaust.

Later, six survivors accompanied by second generation survivors lit six large candles while Raitzin recited Mole Rachamin. Kaddish was then chanted by Hirsh Allusky, the executive secretary of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization (WAGRO), sponsors of the event.

ISRAEL AND THE HOLOCAUST

Naphtali Lavie, Israel’s consul general in New York, attributed the establishment of the State of Israel to the survivors of the Holocaust. “Had it not been for the survivors of the Holocaust … I doubt whether the State of Israel would have been created,” he said. Lavie added that had it not been for the Holocaust, “Israel would today have been richer in quality and quantity.”

But Lavie, who was liberated by American troops from the Buchenwald death camp, condemned the use of the terms genocide and Holocaust for political purposes and by anti-Semites. He said that while other peoples were and are victims of mass slaughter, only the Jewish people were singled out for deliberate and planned extermination. Hence, the terms genocide and Holocaust are uniquely applicable to them.

Lavie also stated that these terms, used loosely to characterize what is happening to people in many parts of the world today, are being employed by people in the free world who stood by idly while European Jews were being slaughtered.

Mayor Edward Koch of New York spoke of the bravery of those who took arms against the Nazis and fought in the ghettos. He said “we are duty bound to remember and actively commemorate” the memory of the Holocaust. Koch proclaimed today “Warsaw Ghetto Commemoration Day,” calling on all people to remember the courage and valour of the victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

Steven Meed, son of Benjamin Meed, honorary president of WAGRO, spoke on behalf of his father who is in Washington for tomorrow’s opening ceremonies of the American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors. He, too, cited the need to remember the Holocaust and the ghetto uprising, and also referred to the world that stood by indifferently, while Jews were killed during World War II. He compared this indifference to the nations that today have turned their backs on Israel.

Some 1,000 people who attended the commemoration service here today were scheduled to leave immediately after the event to Washington in 25 buses to participate in the opening ceremonies of the four-day American Gathering of Holocaust Survivors, according to a spokesman for WAGRO. An estimated 12,000 survivors and their families are expected for the American Gathering.

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