Holocaust Day of Remembrance unites community to pay tribute

by | Apr 19, 2013 | Uncategorized

For some, the annual Tidewater Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—commemoration ceremony is too intense, too painful, too sad, or not important to their lives, and so they don’t attend.

Others, however, see it as vitally important that they remember the people both killed and saved during the Holocaust, and they make it a point to be present at the Holocaust Commission of the United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s solemn evening event.

More than 600 people attended this year’s ceremony on April 7 at Temple Israel in Norfolk.

The audience was comprised of Jews and non-Jews, students and teachers, families, friends, neighbors, and strangers. They came to honor the Holocaust survivors, liberators, and righteous gentiles in attendance, as well as to remember community and beloved survivors who are no longer living, and the six million Jews killed during World War II.

A handful of community leaders and clergy spoke and shared blessings during the hour and a half event. Rabbi Rosalin Mandelberg of Norfolk’s Ohef Sholom Temple reminded the audience that while the Holocaust and Yom Hashoah are tragic and dark, they are filled with hope, because, “We live. And the children of Israel live. Thank God.”

Frank Grunwald, a Holocaust survivor who is featured in the 2012 award-winning documentary Misa’s Fugue, was the evening’s guest speaker. Grunwald shared his harrowing tale of survival, beginning when he was nine years old, that took him from a happy childhood to a Czechoslavakian ghetto through four concentration camps, and finally to freedom.

“What I went through was typical, millions of people went through it,” Grunwald said. “The only thing that makes me special is that I was lucky to survive.”

Before the hushed crowd, Grunwald illustrated his oral memories with photos projected on a screen behind him, showing the apartment building where he grew up, the concentration camps where he lived, and faces and bodies of fellow Jews in the camps that he miraculously survived.

Franchesica Middleton, her son Blake French, and a group of about 20 other students taking a course on the history of Nazi Germany at Virginia Wesleyan College attended Yom Hashoah. “I thought it was important to come tonight, and I really wanted my son to come, too, because how many more chances will he have to meet or hear a Holocaust survivor?” asked Middleton.

As part of the commemoration, Holocaust survivors, family members, liberators and righteous gentiles are invited to light candles of remembrance. Each year, the number of candles lit decreases, as that community of survivors and saviors ages and passes away.

“We are the last generation to hear first hand accounts of survivors,” said Alicia Friedman, Holocaust Commission chair. “It is important that these stories are heard, so people can know what comes from hatred and ignorance, and to make sure it never happens again.”

The event was also a chance for the community to see and honor student winners of the Holocaust Commission’s annual Elie Wiesel Writing and Visual Arts Competitions, sponsored respectively by TowneBank and the Simon Family Foundation. Outstanding local teachers of Holocaust education also received awards.

“I think these contests are a powerful tool for social commentary,” said Norview High School art teacher Jennifer McDuffie, who had two student winners in the art competition. “They provide a chance to ask the students to learn about the Holocaust, to think about what’s important to them, and then, to express their feelings.”

A month-long Elie Wiesel Visual Arts Winners and Judges’ Choice Exhibit will be open to the public at the Meyera E. Oberndorf Central Library in Virginia Beach, beginning May 5.

To learn more about the Holocaust Commission of the UJFT and to see and read winning entries in the Elie Wiesel competitions, visit www.holocaustcommission.org. To see more photos from the event, “Like” the Jewish News VA on Facebook.

by Laine M. Rutherford