The unknown heroes of conscience who helped many European Jews stay a step ahead of the Nazi death machine were recalled in an observance of Yom Hashoah, the annual international remembrance of Holocaust victims.
These "righteous Gentiles" or "Christian rescuers" numbered anywhere from 50,000 to 500,000. Whatever their number, they were too few, particularly counted against the 6 million people exterminated in Hitler's concentration camps during World War II.
Yet, they did what they could, providing shelter, false papers, food and clothes to help keep Jews and other innocents from the Nazi concentration camps.
Yesterday, about 1,000 people observed Yom Hashoah at a 90-minute ceremony held downtown in the War Memorial, which was built to memorialize the heroes of World War I. The event was to take place at the Holocaust Memorial at Lombard and Gay streets, but damp, chilly weather forced it indoors.
On hand were Mayor Kurt Schmoke; City Council President Mary Pat Clarke; Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md.; Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th; Lt. Gov. Melvin Steinberg; Baltimore State's Attorney Stuart Simms; and members of the City Council and Maryland legislature.
Sister Carol Rittner, a Roman Catholic nun who directs the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity in New York, gave the keynote address, "Say No! to Darkness." Rittner called the rescuers "not extraordinary saints but ordinary people who acted in extraordinary ways."
As an example, she cited the Gentiles who fed Anne Frank and her family while they hid in Amsterdam from the Nazis. Frank is one of the most famous of the Holocaust victims, said Rittner, but the names of the people who risked their lives by feeding the Franks are obscure.
The nun mentioned the guilt that Christians must bear for belonging to "the dominant religious culture of Europe" and for Christendom's mild resistance to Nazi evils. She upbraided her own church for its wartime muteness, blaming the Vatican for "a silence so deep [and] so baffling that it still scars the body of the Catholic Church."
Three local Jewish students -- Michael Ginsberg of Gilman School, Sharna Goldseker of Park School and Josh Roffman of Pikesville Senior High School -- read essays that they wrote after visiting the remains of the Eastern European concentration camps last summer.
Toward the end of the ceremony, six local Jewish residents who lived through the war in Europe lighted candles for the dead 6 million. A seventh candle was lighted for Soviet Jews waiting to emigrate.
Other victims of religious and cultural bias -- especially the Kurdish refugees from Iraq -- were remembered during the ceremony. Rabbi Mark Loeb of Beth El Congregation said in his invocation that Jews must "resolve never to be guilty of the sin of silence" that facilitated their suffering at the Nazis' hands. Jews must speak out when others, such as the Kurds, are in pain, said Loeb.
Elana Kuperstein, a spokesman for the Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore, said before yesterday's event that the organization has donated $5,000 to the Joint Distribution Committee, a New York-based Jewish international relief fund that is providing aid to the Kurdish refugees.