Community members remembered the Holocaust by listening to stories from that time and lighting candles for the victims.
This year’s guest speaker at the Holocaust Days of Remembrance program, held April 12 at Tony Bass Auditorium, was Rabbi Esther Jonas-Märtin. The event was organized by the 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment under the headline “Learning from the Holocaust: Legacy of Perseverance.”
She learned in school about Nazi Germany, Jonas-Märtin said, but at that time, “that all sounded like story-telling from ‘once upon a time.’” She did not see the connection to her own life. However, that changed when she met a man—half German and half Thai—who told her he had grown up without his parents under child and youth care, she said, and – after the Nazi party came into power – had become a subject of experiments on foreign blood. They medicated and tested him until he collapsed. “When we talk about the Holocaust, we usually refer to Jews,” Jonas-Märtin said, pointing out that many people forget that the Nuremberg laws laid the foundation for the persecution of all human beings who did not meet the Aryan criteria.
Jonas-Märtin shared a second story with the audience. It was the story of Henry Birnbrey, a Jewish child, who—as part of a child rescue program—escaped from the Nazis to New York. On the second attempt, he came into a Family who appreciated him and accepted him as a full member of the Family. Later on, he succeeded in entering the armed forces, and was finally sent to Germany as a scout for an infantry division. Two weeks before the end of the war, the scouts came across an abandoned freight train with 20 or 30 cars crowded with Jewish people. The scouts were horrified in the face of the inhumane conditions these people had been left in, Jonas-Märtin said. The Jewish people on the train were rescued, and Birnbrey would never forget what he saw. For the rest of his life, he tried to uphold Jewish traditions and remained active in Jewish communal work.
At the end of the program, a candle lighting ceremony was held in memory and honor of those who died during the Holocaust. The first candle was lit in commemoration of the six million Jews who lost their lives; the second candle was dedicated to the 1.5 million children who did not have the chance to live their childhood in peace. The third candle was for the ghetto fighters and partisans who tried to resist Nazi machinery; the fourth candle was lit in honor of the small minority who hid and saved Jews; the fifth candle was to commemorate those people who had the strength to build up a new existence; and the last candle was dedicated to the tireless visionaries and initiators of the past centuries who contributed to the establishment of the State of Israel.