'Burden of memory' of Holocaust observed at Yom Hashoah

April 11, 1994|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Sun Staff Writer

More than 400 people nearly filled the auditorium at the War Memorial Building downtown yesterday to remember the extermination of 6 million Jews a half-century ago and to honor a Baltimorean who led a national effort to ensure that no one ever forgets.

The occasion was Yom Hashoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance that has become an annual event worldwide.

The guest of honor was Harvey M. "Bud" Meyerhoff, the Baltimore developer and philanthropist who for six years oversaw the planning and building of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum that opened in Washington last April.

"Every year there are fewer witnesses, and the burden of memory gets greater," said Sara J. Bloomfield, director of public programs for the museum. "But this year," she pointed out, "the burden has been eased" by the opening of the Holocaust museum, which, in just under a year, has already had 2 million visitors.

"It took dreams and thousands of people working and donating money, but all the dreams mean nothing without leadership and vision," said Ms. Bloomfield in her tribute to Mr. Meyerhoff.

"Bud Meyerhoff's guidance kept everyone together toward a common goal."

Mr. Meyerhoff chaired the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council from 1987 to 1993. His family contributed $6 million to the $168 million project that was 13 years in the making.

Mr. Meyerhoff, in turn, said that what really drove the construction of the memorial was not individuals, but the "desire that those who perished would never be forgotten."

"This museum has a story to tell that is universal, and that is that citizens of a democracy cannot stand by," he said.

The formal observance, which was sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, was preceded by a reading of the names of hundreds of victims of the Holocaust by members of the Maryland State Association of B'nai B'rith.

It was part of a nationwide program in which, from sunrise to sunset yesterday, the name of every Jew killed by the Nazis during World War II would be read aloud in some community in the United States.

"The Germans were very meticulous record-keepers," said Joel Coonin, after standing more than an hour reading names. "They recorded first names, last names, ages, parents' names, the camps they were in. Everything was on paper," he said, showing a visitor a list of the details of the murdered men, women and children.

The program also included three high school students who read their observations after a trip to Eastern Europe last summer when they visited concentration camps that now stand as solemn memorials to the dead.

But perhaps the most moving part of the observance began when local students marched down the side aisles of the memorial building holding huge banners with the names of the concentration camps where Jews had been held and murdered.

Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen, Theresienstadt, Buchenwald, Birkenau, Treblinka, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck, the signs said in bold black letters.

Then, during a solemn candlelighting ceremony, six candles, representing the 6 million who perished, were lighted by Holocaust survivors as the victims were recognized by country, as the Jews from Poland, from Yugoslavia, from Greece, Germany, Austria, Belgium. . . .

And as Cantor Abraham Denberg of Beth Tfiloh Congregation led the audience in a prayer for the dead and broke into a haunting mourning song, there were tears in many eyes.

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