Survivors of Holocaust gather to remember

Memories: Fifty men and women who survived the Nazi death camps joined together for Yom Ha'Shoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance.

April 28, 2003|By Jennifer McMenamin | Jennifer McMenamin,SUN STAFF

With the haunting lilt of a single clarinet echoing off the marble walls, the guests of honor shuffled down the center aisle of Baltimore's War Memorial Building yesterday.

Some leaned heavily on canes. Others relied on children and grandchildren for support. All wore white roses pinned to their blouses and blazers - a symbol to the audience of more than 500 people that these 50 men and women had endured and survived the Nazi death camps.

"Despite the warm sunshine outside, there is a cold shadow on our hearts," Rabbi Steven Schwartz of the Beth El Congregation told those gathered for the annual Yom Ha'Shoah, the Holocaust Day of Remembrance. "We remember and confront the terror that was the Holocaust. We have not forgotten. We will not forget."

FOR THE RECORD - An article Monday incorrectly referred to Holocaust survivor Agi Rado's age and the length of her time in a Nazi concentration camp. Rado was a child when she was held for less than three months at the Ravensbruck camp in eastern Germany. The Sun regrets the error.

More than 60 years have passed since Adolf Hitler's Nazis began a systematic extermination of Europe's Jews, killing more than 6 million men, women and children before the United States and its allies defeated Germany and liberated the concentration camps. Several speakers and survivors at yesterday's commemoration suggested that the ceremony's importance increases as the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles.

"Each year, the number of survivors or people who are old enough to have been aware of what was going on grows smaller and smaller," Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley said. "That moves the task of remembering to the shoulders of those who have no firsthand knowledge of what happened."

Sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council, the ceremony paid particular attention to the much-debated failure of Allied forces to bomb Auschwitz in German-occupied Poland or the railroad tracks leading to the concentration camp where Jews by the thousands died in gas chambers.

Keynote speaker Paul Miller, an assistant history professor at Westminster's McDaniel College, shared clips from his recent documentary film, They Looked Away. The film's interviews and evidence, Miller said, debunk three commonly shared reasons why the death camps were not bombed - that innocent people would have been killed, that it was not militarily feasible and that an attack would have diverted military resources essential to winning the war.

It's "quite true," Miller said, that bombing the gas chambers or rail lines would have killed innocent Jews. But those Jews had been taken to Auschwitz for the sole purpose of being gassed.

It's indisputable, Miller said, that the Nazis would have found some other way to kill their captives had the gas chambers been bombed. But it's unlikely, he added, that any replacement could have replicated the quickness or the organized mass murder of the gas chambers.

Noting that more than 440,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz between May 15 and July 7 of 1944 and that fewer than 8 percent survived the camp, Miller said, "If the Hungarian deportations had ended July 6 rather than July 7, nearly 10,000 would have survived. It's simple math, but real lives."

Among the survivors moved by Miller's film was concert pianist Agi Rado.

"I am Hungarian, so it was very pertinent to me," said Rado, whose family was dragged from its Budapest home in 1944. Her father died on the way to a labor camp in Austria. After a brief stay at Ravensbruck in eastern Germany, where her mother fell ill with diphtheria, teen-ager Rado was sent to a smaller camp neighboring a German airbase.

"The Allied forces were bombing the airbase without harming us, which bears out what Miller was saying about how they could have bombed the camps," she said. "I am convinced they should have."

Another Holocaust survivor, Morris Baker, 77, of Pikesville, said such an attack would only temporarily have halted the horror.

"Maybe they would have had to bomb the railroad tracks," said Baker, known at Auschwitz as prisoner No. 87,601 - a number tattooed on his left forearm by the Nazis. "The trains kept coming every day from all over Europe. Maybe the trains would have stopped coming for a certain amount of time. But eventually, the trains would have started all over. The Nazis would not have let a bombing stop them. Auschwitz was part of the Nazis' Final Solution."

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