Zachor: Remembrance and resistance
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Zachor: Remembrance and resistance

'A stark reminder'

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Gunther Apfel of Elmwood Park lights the first memorial candle at Sunday’s Yom HaShoah observance at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. B’nai Israel. PHOTOS BY KEN HILFMAN

More than 60 years after the Holocaust, revisionism runs rampant, and those gathered at the Fair Lawn Jewish Center/Cong. Beth Israel Sunday for a Holocaust memorial received a stark reminder of the need for vigilance.

Holocaust denial is anti-Semitism, said Paul A. Shapiro, director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. “There are lessons we need to be reminded of,” he said.

“It’s a way to spread hatred,” Shapiro told the crowd of 500 people at the shul’s Yom HaShoah commemoration sponsored by UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. “Now, to be able to use 50 million documents to show the truth is a very strong weapon against a denial.”

That weapon can be found in the archives of the International Tracing Service – an arm of the International Committee of the Red Cross – at Bad Arolsen, Germany, recently made available to the Holocaust Museum.

“We’re talking about the opening of an archival collection of at least 50 million pages of paper,” he said, “which focuses on the fate of people who were victims of the Nazis -Jews, and non-Jews alike. It’s a vast collection of paper, and it was a very difficult process to make it available.”

These documents, compiled by the Nazis, detail such atrocities as the transfer of a young boy from one concentration camp to another. “Though ill,” Shapiro explained, “the Nazis kept him alive because he had very small hands and had been a valuable worker in a rocket factory.”

Shapiro commented: “I do listen to survivors, and respect them. We have an obligation to them,” and urged those in the audience who desired information about a loved one lost in the Shoah to fill in a request form from the lobby and send it to the museum.

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Holocaust memorial committee co-chairs Allyn Michaelson, left, and Rosalind Melzer flank Paul A. Shapiro, the keynote speaker.

“For the future, forever,” he said, “this documentation provides us with the weapon against denial.”

Revisionism is not the only danger. The Holocaust provides lessons for future generations about guarding their freedoms, according to Shapiro.

“Even good governments – including our own – may disregard the voices and interests of people who are perceived not to be powerful,” he said. “Survivors of genocide, survivors of the Shoah, are [not], or are perceived not to be, powerful. That has relevance in our society. People with power have an interest.”

“We are the guardians of their legacy,” said Leah Kaufman, a member of what’s been called the Second Generation. Her father, Moshe Nemeth, is a survivor from Czechoslovakia who was interned in labor camps in Austria, and her grandparents died in Auschwitz.

Her father did not speak about what had happened to him, she said. “It’s as if life began after 1945. I guess I always knew that his past was too painful for him to talk about and so I never asked questions. Not asking questions, I now realize, was my way of protecting him from experiencing any more pain. And looking back now, I have a better understanding of his psyche. I realize now that in order to have recreated his life, he needed to direct all his energy toward that goal. Focusing on his past trauma and losses would have paralyzed him.”

The program featured a children’s candlelighting procession in memory of the 66th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, with musical selections by Cantor Brian Shanblatt and violinist Murray Richman.

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Flora Frank tells about the “Crayon Project,” which has collected more than 100,000 crayons in memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust and distributed them to disadvantaged schools.

Flora Frank, a congregant, spoke about a drive she spearheaded to collect 100,000 crayons for children in schools and other institutions in memory of the children who perished in the Holocaust.

Two Torahs that had been saved during the Holocaust, one from Prague and the other from Pacov in Czechoslovakia, were carried in a procession through the sanctuary. Rabbi Ronald Roth said that the Torahs were themselves survivors of the Holocaust. And, he stressed, while the Holocaust must not be forgotten, it is particularly important to remember and commemorate it at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise in many places in the world. It is also a lesson to guard against and fight genocide.

Jennie Freilich did a Yiddish reading in place of William Skobac, a member of the Holocaust Memorial Committee who had died the week before. The program was dedicated “to the memory of our dear friend and colleague.”

The commemoration was prepared by Holocaust Memorial Committee co-chairs Rosalind Melzer and Allyn Michaelson and other members.

Dr. Zvi Marans, UJA-NNJ’s campaign chair, delivered greetings and Fair Lawn Mayor Steven Weinstein made a presentation from the borough council marking the event.

The program concluded with the audience singing the “Hymn of the Partisans,” led by Josef Bryn, and “El Maleh Rachamim,” led by Cantor Eric Wasser.

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