Holocaust day celebrates survival instead of marking tragedy

April 15, 1991|By Ginger Thompson

In a ceremony of remembrance for 6 million Jews slaughtered by Nazis during World War II, hundreds of people in Baltimore yesterday focused on the perseverance of the Jewish nation and the goodness of those who risked their lives by helping Jews survive.

Instead of listening to tales of Nazi atrocities, those gathered at the downtown War Memorial Building heard from hopeful teen-agers who had visited Auschwitz and emerged from the "man-made hell" with a feeling of triumph.

"I thought on my way there that I would be sad, appalled and disgusted," said Michael Ginsburg of the Gilman School. "For a time, I most certainly was.

"Soon, however, my thoughts took an entirely different track," he added. "Didn't the Jewish people survive? Didn't the Nazis lose? Doesn't the fact that a group of Jewish students toured Auschwitz prove that we made it?"

Another student, Sharna G. Goldseker of the Park School, said, "As I stood with the wooden barracks at my back and the open gate up ahead, I suddenly understood I could make a difference. While millions before me have perished, I and other Jews have survived."

That feeling of strength was the theme for yesterday's Yom Hashoah ceremony, a world-wide commemoration of the victims of the Nazi Holocaust. In the ceremony, attended by state and local government officials, candles were lit by Holocaust survivors in memory of the millions who were lost. And the audience joined Cantor Melvin Luterman in singing the Mourner's Kaddish.

But Dr. Carol Rittner, a member of the Roman Catholic order of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, pointed out in her keynote address that while the Holocaust would always be remembered as the most brutal chapter in human history, there were thousands of quiet heroes during the war who also deserve tribute.

"There were many Gentiles who said, 'Forget the Jews. I'm not going to risk all I have for them,' " she said. "But in the midst of this indifference, there were people who acted in extraordinary ways. Ordinary people -- atheists, agnostics, priests, nuns and maids -- who could not stand by while the Jews were persecuted and hunted down."

She urged the audience to learn more about these "angels" who provided havens, food, clothing and weapons to Jews struggling against the Nazis.

"There were many more Jews killed than saved, but the numbers are not important," said Dr. Rittner, director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. "What matters is that there were people who cared and helped."

Yet her words did not soothe the pain felt by many who attended yesterday's ceremony -- particularly those who lost loved ones at the hands of the Nazis.

As the audience sang a Jewish prayer of hope, many stood crying.

One elderly woman with deep ebony hair, who did not want to be identified, said there were no angels to save her younger brothers and parents.

"I have nightmares about them still," she said, wiping her face with a handkerchief.

Brownie Cummins and her son, Arnold Cummins, expressed frustration that the atrocities of the Holocaust are still being committed.

"Remembering doesn't mean anything if we don't learn from it," Mr. Cummins said.

"There is still a monster in the world who is killing his people," said Mrs. Cummins, referring to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. "And it's sad that he cannot be killed."

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