Though certainly one of the most bitter memories of history, the Holocaust was also a time of true heroism and great humanity. On Sun., May 6, Mt. Sinai Memorial Park in Simi Valley dedicated a grove of trees to the non-Jewish heroes who risked their lives to save Jewish lives during the Holocaust. Lidia Furmanski of Pasadena, a rescuer from Poland, and Bert Lerno of Simi Valley, a Jewish Dane who was rescued, were guests of honor at the dedication ceremony.
"Mount Sinai's mission is to provide solace and honor human spirit," said Arnold Saltzman, general manager of Mount Sinai Memorial Parks. "The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is an eternal testimonial to the thousands of non-Jewish rescuers whose courage and respect for their fellow men and women set a high standard for us all."
The Grove of the Righteous Rescuers is the first of its kind in this country and consists of 20 olive and almond trees. An additional 18 Jerusalem pines were donated by the Jewish National Fund, best known for planting more than 210 million trees in Israel. Through the grove winds a path among stone plaques acknowledging each of the 38 countries where citizens, at their own peril, protected Jews. In addition to a commemorative plaque, the centerpiece of the grove is a fountain of water surrounding an eternal flame. Dr. Edward Kamenir noted that the "combination of fire and water represents two extremes that can live in harmony." Kamenir worked as a volunteer to develop the new cemetery and was inspired by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem's Holocaust memorial, to create a memorial to the heroes of the Holocaust.
"In front of [Yad Vashem] is a grove of trees dedicated to the righteous gentiles of the world. It impressed me that they had a place," Kamenir said. "Wherever we memorialize those who were sacrificed by the Nazis there should also be a memorial for those who sacrificed themselves to save them."
Simi Valley Mayor Bill Davis spoke during the ceremony and worked with local school children to plant a few trees in the grove.
Rabbi Harold Schulweis of Valley Beth Shalom, the ceremony's keynote speaker, focused on the importance of remembering our history. "One thing is more powerful than death itself -- memory," Schulweis, said, adding that "memory is a subtle art. You have to know how to remember."
Schulweis, the founder of the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous, noted that if you leave people with only a melancholy memory, that memory could turn to cynicism. "Remember evil and do not forget goodness,"he said.