Jews gather to honor those who died


April 19, 1993|By Frank P. L. Somerville | Frank P. L. Somerville,Staff Writer

For 1,000 Jews in downtown Baltimore yesterday afternoon, commemorations of the Holocaust were marked by haunting contrasts.

Bright sun, blue sky and merry crowds at and near the Inner Harbor were shadowed inside the marble walls of the War Memorial by somber memories of the cruelty, suffering, hopelessness and heroism of five decades ago.

Even the fragrant blossoms of six rows of flowering trees that are the springtime backdrop for the stark sculpture of the Holocaust Memorial at Gay and Water streets were altered by their symbolism -- each row represents a million men, women or children exterminated because they were Jewish.

But remembering the Holocaust brought comparisons with current events, too.

Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, who was introduced as "a loyal friend of the Jewish community" and warmly applauded in the packed War Memorial, spoke of humanity's unfinished business: "Ethnic hatreds in the United States and Bosnia, anti-Semitism in Germany."

Judith S. Goldstein was the keynote speaker for the Baltimore Jewish Council's Day of Remembrance ceremonies, which began at the War Memorial and concluded with prayers and candle-lighting at the Holocaust monument. She drew lessons from the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto and the Danes' protection of Jews from Germany's Nazis, the two subjects of her remarks.

"Today, 50 years later, we remember Warsaw and Copenhagen, Poland and Denmark," Dr. Goldstein said. "For those who died and those who will follow us, we are guardians of a dual legacy: destruction and rescue."

The speaker is the director of Thanks to Scandinavia Inc., a 30-year-old foundation that provides fellowships at U.S. universities for students from Scandinavian countries and honors their citizens for saving Jews during World War II. Victor Borge, the musician and comedian, was one of the founders.

"How do we hold within our minds the killing of 3 million Polish Jews and the rescue of 8,000 Danish Jews?" Dr. Goldstein asked her audience, which included Holocaust survivors and relatives of its dead.

"How do we absorb the knowledge of unspeakable hatred and brutality toward Jews?

"And how can we benefit from the unique example of a democracy [Denmark] that chose altruism and bravery in protecting its own countrymen?"

Peter Dyvig, Danish ambassador to the United States, who was presented a plaque honoring Denmark's "humanity" toward Jews World War II, had a simple explanation:

"The Jews of Denmark were also Danes."

In reply to a reporter's questions about the comparisons drawn in some quarters between the Holocaust and the Serbs' "ethnic cleansing" in Bosnia, Mr. Dyvig said, "I don't think you can compare the two situations. They are different. But when we are remembering what was happening to the Jews, we feel deep, deep sympathy for the Bosnians who are fleeing their homes, missing their lands, having all bad things happening to them. . . . I hope the international community will be able to work out a solution."

Dr. Goldstein said of Bosnia that "the impulse to help is enormous," but there is "uncertainty about what to do."

In her speech, she warned against the paralysis and inaction of despair. "Traumatized by the past," she said, "some people expect that the drive to annihilation will erupt once again. And they expect that no one will be there to help. Some even deny the importance -- and the reality -- of rescue as an historic act.

"The fear in our bones bends us away from believing in the possibility of moral and just behavior, especially today with the growth of racial and social unrest and anti-Semitism in Europe and the United States."

One of the youthful participants in yesterday's ceremonies, 17-year-old Marc Civin of the Baltimore Hebrew Congregation, bluntly rejected inaction as a response to the Holocaust.

"We should speak out today about all who are being slaughtered," he told the War Memorial audience. "It is not only our job to remember, it is our job to act."

He received strong applause.

One member of the audience, honored as a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, was Larry Lesser, 61, of Columbia. He was 11 when, with his mother's help, he slid out the back of a horse-drawn wagon that was taking his parents and 6-year-old brother to an uncertain Nazi fate. He never saw them again.

Mr. Lesser's name was Eliezer Lejerowcz then, and he lived by his wits in the streets of Warsaw until the end of the war. "Mother knew I could survive in the streets," he said.

Dr. Goldstein, quoting from a diary left by a Polish victim of the Holocaust, recounted facts of human devastation.

Mr. Lesser described it as though it were yesterday: "We looked out a hole in the mortar, every building around us burned, the flames, the flames." He added, his voice breaking, "April 18-19, 1943. April 27. I remember those dates vividly."

An earlier ceremony organized by the Maryland State Association of B'nai B'rith also put flesh and blood on the grim statistics. Eighteen volunteers read hundreds of names of Holocaust victims from the stage of the War Memorial. "Yosif Marshov, Aron Marshov, Andrei Leb, Margaret Farkas, Samuil Marshov, Riva Marshov, Edith Leb, Gila Tiomkin, Judith Noe, Abram Tiomkin, Tiberius Noe, Ladislaus Noe," they read -- the names, the ages and the places and times of the deaths when known went on and on and on.

It was part of a reading that was taking place in more than 100 communities in the United States and in 50 other countries, said Frada Wall, who chaired the B'nai B'rith program in Baltimore.

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