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Why Remember?

April 21, 2010

Why remember? The storm clouds are gathering all over the world for Jews. Iran is preparing for nuclear weapons for Israel’s extinction, Hamas and Hezbollah are strengthening, synagogues are being vandalized, and even the U.S. leaders want Israel to negotiate, no matter the consequences, for “peace” with those who still call for the destruction of Israel.

 

I rarely faced anti-Semitism or thought much about the Holocaust while I grew up in Livonia in the 60s. As I sat on the bus going to Hebrew School, I didn’t ask why rocks were thrown at our windows or wonder why my Hebrew teacher, Rabbi Charles Rosenzveig, seemed so distant. Nor did I ask about the histories of my Uncle Morey or his friends, Aron and Frances Zoldan, all Holocaust survivors living two blocks away, on St. Francis Street.

            Rabbi Rosenzveig, founder of the Holocaust Memorial Center in Oakland County, made sure in the next two decades that Jews like me didn’t take the Holocaust for granted. I grew puzzled, then saddened, and later horrified how men could commit such evil. In 1984, I took my future wife, Judy, to the Holocaust Center the same day I asked her to marry me. To truly experience joy, I reasoned, we must also understand depths of sorrow and despair.

            Over 25 years later, my wife and I sat at Adat Shalom Synagogue, as she and her mother read Kaddish for her father, who died the morning before the first Passover Seder. The day before Yom HaShoah, Rabbi Bergman, the son of Holocaust survivors, admitted he understands the Holocaust less than ever, more stunned now by such unexplainably brutal cruelty. Yet, he also acknowledged believing that all 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust resisted in their own ways, either physically, mentally, or spiritually.

            On the following day, on Sunday, April 11th, Jews around the world gathered in their own synagogues and communities to remember Yom HaShoah and mourn those we’ve lost. After the Sunday minyan service at Adat Shalom, we listened to my old Livonia neighbor, Aron Zoldan, a faithful man who comes daily to minyan service, talk about the Holocaust. Unlike so many survivors, Aron likes to talk about his past, in English or in Hebrew. He spoke about the three week trip on a cattle car from Mukacheve to Auschwitz with his parents and five siblings; how everyone stood, bunched tightly together, with virtually no food, for the entire three weeks. When they arrived, he and two brothers were chosen to work at Auschwitz while the other three siblings and both his parents were chosen to die.

            Aron admitted he survived once by hiding in the crematorium’s chimney for two days. He spoke of the 60-mile forced march from Mauthausen to the Gunzkirchen camp, that prisoners were liberated by the U.S. 71st Infantry Division, and that one of his brothers could not survive the march, dying on May 5, 1945. We heard Aron’s anger at FDR for turning away ships of Jews, how he had been taken to Cyprus and eventually landed in Palestine and fought in Israel’s war of liberation.

            After Aron’s incredible stories, we listened to Chazzan Gross and the Adat Shalom choir sing from his original oratorio, entitled, I Believe: A Shoah Requiem. Gross’ grandmother, Masha, was the only member of her immediate family to survive the Holocaust, unlike her parents, eight brothers and sister, and other relatives who were “slaughtered in Belzec.” The chazzan, acknowledging there is no significant portion of liturgy dedicated to the Holocaust memorial, “wanted to create a lasting link to commemorate this day of remembrance.” He and the choir sang two excerpts from I Believe, L’Zikhrom K’Doshim (Yizkor Memorial Prayer for Martyrs) and El Malei Rachamim. This includes the tragic English words, which were beautifully sung in Hebrew: “Men, women, and children who were murdered, burned, drowned, and strangled, for the sanctification of the Name, through the hands of the German oppressors may their name and memory be obliterated. Because without intending a vow, I will give tsedakah for the remembrance of their souls, May their resting place be in the Garden of Eden.

            Why remember? The storm clouds are gathering all over the world for Jews. Iran is preparing for nuclear weapons for Israel’s extinction, Hamas and Hezbollah are strengthening, synagogues are being vandalized, and even the U.S. leaders want Israel to negotiate, no matter the consequences, for “peace” with those who still call for the destruction of Israel.

So amidst this frightening scenario, Judy and I stood, a small part of a group of Jews on Yom HaShoah, walking silently into the sanctuary toward the special Torah saved from the Holocaust. We were led by 6 Holocaust survivors who lit 6 candles for the 6 million who perished. We all read the Holocaust Kaddish and sang two songs, ending with Hatikvah: “Our hope is not yet lost, The hope of two thousand years, To be a freed people in our land, The land of Zion and Jerusalem.”

Why remember? Because it’s a mitzvah to remember, because we can’t allow the repetition of cruel destruction. Why? Because thousands of Holocaust survivors such as my Uncle Morey and Frances Zoldan are no longer with us. And in the coming years, survivors like Aron Zoldan will be gone, their voices faded away.

We cannot allow the memories of 6 million souls to perish with them.

 

           

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