NEWS YORK (May. 2)
If Holocaust Remembrance Day is rooted in the concept of educating younger generations, then the somber day was not lost on Dara Kent Avjian.
“It’s just, like, so terrible when I think about it,” says the 11-year-old.
If the lessons of Yom Hashoah are to be taught by eyewitnesses to the atrocities of the Holocaust, then Hannah Kent bears that responsibility.
“You push those memories back in order to live and build, and as you get older they come back,” says the survivor of the Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. “You never forget.”
Together, granddaughter and grandmother lit a candle Sunday during a ceremony at New York City’s Congregation Emanu-El in memory of those who perished and in the hopes of sustaining the bonds that link the future of the Jewish people to its past.
“It is our duty as survivors of the Holocaust to make sure this message is not forgotten,” said Benjamin Meed, president of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization, which helped sponsor the event.
“But I also believe that it is your duty, as the last to hear our stories firsthand, to perpetuate the memory for future generations.”
The Manhattan ceremony was one of many observances around the world of Holocaust Remembrance Day, which began at sundown Monday.
In Washington, the steps of the U.S. Capitol hosted a commemorative service Tuesday, sponsored by B’nai B’rith.
Also, members of Congress and Jewish leaders were scheduled to hold a noontime ceremony at the U.S. Capitol Rotunda on Thursday. The annual program was to include a candle-lighting ceremony with participation from Holocaust survivors.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Council, the host of the Capitol Hill ceremony, leads the nation in the annual Days of Remembrance, from April 30 to May 7, honoring the victims of the Holocaust.
In New York, Shmuel Sisso, Israel’s consul general, said the series of observances from Passover to Yom Hashoah to Israel’s Independence Day, which this year falls on May 10, takes the Jewish people through a journey of “sorrow and rebirth.”
In Jerusalem, Israeli President Ezer Weizman, at a torch-lighting ceremony at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial on Monday night, called the existence of the State of Israel the best guarantee that a tragedy like the Holocaust will never happen again.
Six Holocaust survivors who came to Israel following the war lit the torches for the 6 million, while videos portrayed their personal, harrowing experiences.
The annual wail of a two-minute siren brought the Jewish state to a standstill Tuesday, as the nation stood in silent tribute to the victims. Israel’s flag was lowered to half-staff and places of entertainment were closed, while Israeli TV altered its regular schedule to air special programs on Holocaust- related topics.
The next day, Weizman was in Poland, where he and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, led thousands of young people in the annual March of the Living from Auschwitz to Birkenau.
At Congregation Emanu-El in New York, the day was spent not only in reflection, but was also used as a platform to credit advances in worldwide acknowledgment of the Holocaust and to express concern over anti-Semitic acts over the past year.
The chairman of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, Rabbi Irving “Yitz” Greenberg, referred to a recent Holocaust conference in Stockholm as “a powerful force in stopping hatred.”
The symposium, organized by Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson, was noted as one of the first international meetings to discuss Holocaust education.
Pope John Paul II’s recent visit to Israel was described by Greenberg and others as historic and a pivotal advance in interfaith relations.
“We live in a world of gestures,” Meed said of the pope’s visit. “The unspoken was just as important as what was said. History will remember the solemnity of the moment.”
Recognition that anti-Semitism has not disappeared, however, was also noted at the New York event.
The most recent assault on the memory of those murdered in the Holocaust, the libel trial in London that pitted Holocaust denier David Irving against American scholar Deborah Lipstadt, proved a warning to all that remembering the Holocaust is integral to preventing further anti-Semitism.
“Your lives and your testimony have not been in vain,” Greenberg said to survivors, responding to Irving’s claim that the gas chambers in Auschwitz never existed.
The verdict against Irving, however, should not be taken as a signal to retreat into complacency, warned Meed.
“Although the outcome of the case was a clear defeat of the deniers, is this a final defeat? Of course not.”
“As Jews we know our history,” said U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) “In every generation there have been the Hamans and the Hitlers.
“But the Hamans and the Hitlers are gone and we are here remembering — Am Yisroel Chai, the people of Israel live.”
(JTA correspondents Sharon Samber in Washington and Naomi Segal in Jerusalem contributed to this report.)