WASHINGTON (JTA) — Several dozen members of Congress joined Holocaust survivors to mark Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust remembrance day marked by Jewish communities worldwide, by reading out the names of the dead and hearing testimony in the Capitol building on Wendesday morning.
Rep. Brad Schneider, a Jewish Illinois Democrat who spearheaded the event, said in remarks that the need to commemorate now was made more acute by the atrocities taking place in Russia’s war against Ukraine.
“A million and a half children died in the Holocaust,” Schneider said after the name readings, becoming emotional. “We make sure to remember today so the world knows what is happening in Ukraine.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was among those reading names, in her case of families of her Bay Area constituents. She also recalled the role of her father, Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., a Democratic congressman from Baltimore who called out the Roosevelt administration for not doing enough to intervene on behalf of the Jews during the Holocaust.
This is only the second such a gathering; the first was in 2019 and in subsequent years they were suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The event was held a day before Yom Hashoah because lawmakers are often on their way back to their Districts toward the end of the week.
Schneider said in an interview that he is stopped frequently in his district, which has a substantial Ukrainian American population, because of heightened awareness of the atrocities in the country.
“I wear an on with a Ukrainian flag and an American flag, and I get stopped more times than I can count, every day,” he said. “Not just people with direct connections to Ukraine, people with connections to Rwanda, to the Uyghurs.”
The six Holocaust survivors speaking included Frank Cohn, 96, who fled Germany with his family as a child and returned as a U.S. soldier, serving in major battles in Europe and, after the war, assisted in war crimes prosecutions.
There were also descendants of Holocaust survivors, including Charlotte Hoffman, 26, a congressional staffer whose grandmother, Sybil Frank, was hidden in an apartment in The Hague throughout the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands; she came carrying in a Ziploc bag the yellow star marked with “Jood” that her grandmother wore before going into hiding.
Like Schneider, many of the lawmakers reading names were Jewish, including David Kustoff, a Republican from Tennessee; Democrats Ted Deutch and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida; Elaine Luria of Virginia; Kathy Manning of North Carolina; and David Cicilline of Rhode Island.
Also reading names were Michigan Democrats Brenda Lawrence, who cochairs the Black-Jewish Caucus; Haley Stevens, who is in a tight race with Jewish Democrat Andy Levin in the state’s 11th District, which has a substantial Jewish population; and Rashida Tlaib, a Palestinian American.