April 25, 2011
We will never forget
It has been more than 65 years since the end of the Holocaust, and each year, on Yom HaShoah, Jews commemorate the loss of the 6 million Jewish men, women and children who were killed.
On April 12, 1951, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, proclaimed Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) to be on the 27th of Nisan. This year, observances will be held on Sunday, May 1 and Monday, May 2.
Numerous Jewish organizations mark the occasion, including the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs (FJMC), which provides special yahrzeit candles to Jews across the country through its Shoah Yellow Candle program. The idea behind the candle program is that many victims of the Holocaust do not have anyone to remember them. Additionally, the yahrzeit dates of most Holocaust victims are unknown, so we honor them all on Yom HaShoah by lighting the yellow candles. While the candles are intended to be used on Yom HaShoah, they can be lit any day of the year because, as the FJMC states, “After all, the death camps operated 365 days a year.”
There are fewer witnesses alive today to tell their tale. Yom HaShoah takes on new significance as the survivor population ages.
“When I was liberated from the camps, I was 21 years old,” said Renee Firestone, who was imprisoned at Auschwitz. “I was pretty naïve, and I really believed that there had been a lesson learned from the Holocaust and there would never be another war and certainly never another genocide. Here we are [more than] 60 years later, and humanity has learned absolutely nothing.”
Firestone has dedicated her life to speaking out about the atrocities of the Holocaust, making sure the world never forgets.
“If ever the world will change, if ever people will learn to get along with each other, we must constantly remind them of a situation that has never [before] happened in humankind, where 6 million human beings — children, young, old — were systematically planned to be murdered,” Firestone said.
In the greater Los Angeles area, we have myriad ways to honor the memory of the 6 million. Most synagogues hold special services, and there are several large-scale memorials that are open to the public. Mount Sinai Memorial Parks and Mortuaries in Simi Valley expects more than 400 people at its annual Yom HaShoah observance on May 1. This year’s ceremony will feature a photo exhibition to help bring home the personal nature of Holocaust memorials.
“People take pictures of various Holocaust memorials around the world when they travel,” said Leonard Lawrence, Mount Sinai’s general manager. The exhibition will feature many of these photos to help provide a worldwide perspective, as well as a personal connection to the day, Lawrence said.
The Los Angeles Holocaust Monument will sponsor its 19th Yom HaShoah event on May 1 at Pan Pacific Park. This year’s event will feature a keynote speech by John Loftus, noted author and former U.S. prosecutor. A special exhibit from Yad Vashem, “From Father to Daughter — The Legacy of Carol Deutsch (Antwerp 1894 - Buchenwald 1944),” also will be featured. Free transportation from the West Valley is available.
Both programs are free and open to the public.
After all these years, why is it still so important to set aside a day to remember?
“The Holocaust was not a Jewish problem, it was a human problem,” said Klara Firestone, founder of Second Generation of Los Angeles and the daughter of survivor Renee Firestone. “The things that happened to people in the Holocaust happened one human to another. The lessons to be drawn are universal lessons, lessons we still have not learned. Or we would not have Rwanda, Darfur, Bosnia — even the current-day Islamic terrorism,” she said.
As the daughter of two survivors, Klara Firestone feels a responsibility to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive. “My whole life was Yom HaShoah,” she said. “Everyone I knew was a survivor.”
Keeping the memory alive for current and future generations is something both Firestones say is imperative. Says Klara Firestone: “Learn about the Holocaust, teach it to your children, and teach them to be proud of who they are as Jews.”