Preserving Holocaust memory

Resistance: Survivors describe their struggle against Nazi genocide during a Day of Remembrance.

May 08, 2000|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

As a World War II partisan fighting the Nazis, Polish-born Miles Lerman joined a nighttime raid on a peasant's house in the Ukraine.

Lerman said he helped drag the peasant from his bed and hang him from his living room ceiling. On his chest they placed a sign, warning that the same fate would befall anyone who sold Jewish women and children to the Germans.

"The accusation that Jews went like sheep to the slaughter is not true," Lerman told a crowd of about 400 Holocaust survivors, families, students and politicians attending the annual Day of Remembrance at Baltimore's War Memorial building yesterday.

With prayers, songs and candles for those who died, the event included memories of those who resisted the anti-Semitic war machine that killed about 6 million Jews.

"Jewish partisans fought bravely in all the territories occupied by Nazi Germany," said Lerman, a New Jersey real estate developer and chairman emeritus of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council.

While partisans rarely confronted German soldiers in battle, they disrupted supply lines and tried to protect Jews as well as they could, Lerman said. The Ukrainian peasant, he said, was hanged for turning in an 8-year-old Jewish girl in exchange for a bottle of vodka.

Lerman noted many examples of Jewish bravery: women and children taking medicine to the partisans, uprisings in the ghettos and resistance in the labor camps. "Even in the death camps, Jews rose in rebellion," he said.

In the United States, Jews such as Aaron and Dorothy Margolis tried to bring attention to the plight of their European brethren by speaking out at rallies and urging the government to take action.

As they do every year, the Margolises attended yesterday's observance. "We feel like we owe it to the memory of those who were murdered," Dorothy Margolis said.

Dozens of students from area schools participated in the Day of Remembrance, carrying candles and placards memorializing those who died and those who fought.

"This definitely opened my eyes," said Ashley Fortina, an eighth-grader at McDonogh School. "Hearing it from a real person brings it more to life."

The memorial service concluded with a short procession to the Holocaust Memorial at Lombard and Gay streets, where poems and prayers were offered.

Standing beside the memorial, which evokes the image of the trains that carried Jews to their deaths in the camps, Harry Daniller said he is alive thanks to his mother's resistance. He was 13 years old and living in Riga, Latvia, when the Nazis invaded in 1941. Boys age 16 and older were sent to join men in work brigades, while women, old people and children were told they would be sent to a camp.

But Daniller's mother didn't believe what they had been told, and sent young Harry with his father. Her suspicion proved correct. Instead of taking the women, children and old people to a camp, the Nazis marched them to the Rumbula Forest, where they shot 27,000 people.

Daniller and his father worked in labor camps for most of the war. His father died in Buchenwald concentration camp six weeks before the camp was liberated. Daniller settled in Baltimore, where he opened several clothing stores.

Although telling the story brings him to tears, Daniller often speaks to school and church groups about his family's tragedy.

"It must be done," he said.

Leo Bretholz also resisted the Nazis, leaving his home in Vienna, Austria, in 1938, eight months after the country was annexed by Germany. With the help of a smuggler, he fled to Luxembourg, and spent the next seven years fighting and hiding from the Germans.

Bretholz's mother and sisters died in a concentration camp in 1942. "I did not know until 1960 what had happened," said Bretholz, who chronicled his experiences in the book "Leap Into Darkness."

"If we do not remember," he said, "we are killing the victims all over again."

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