The Nancy and David Wolf Holocaust and Humanity Center (HHC) at Cincinnati’s Union Terminal normally hosts the annual event to commemorate Yom HaShoah, the Jewish day to memorialize the Holocaust, with hundreds of people in attendance. Because of the continuing pandemic, this year’s Holocaust commemoration was produced and presented as a half-hour television program broadcast on Sunday afternoon, April 11th. It was entitled “Yom HaShoah, Remembering for Tomorrow, Carrying Our Stories Forward.” In addition to Sunday’s broadcast, the local public television production was streamed on internet platforms. This innovation enabled the HHC to reach a larger audience in the Jewish and wider communities.
Sarah Weiss, the CEO of the HHC and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, served as host. Weiss said it is her obligation to bear witness, share the stories and “live a life of action and purpose.” She emphasized, however, that descendants of the survivors cannot do it alone.
Also appearing in the program were Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra member Nat Chaiken on cello and Marie-France Lefebvre of the University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music on piano. They performed Chatzi Kaddish by Maurice Ravel.
Rabbi Miriam Terlinchamp, spiritual leader of Temple Sholom, offered a special invocation. She said “the roots of Jewish identity are gnarled and scarred by our pain.” This has kept us alert “to danger, hate and systemic violence.” It has also kept us aware of violence and persecution against other communities. Terlinchamp added that when we say Never Again, we aren’t just talking about the past, we’re saying our people’s survival is a miracle. If there is any legacy we can leave, it’s to make certain that “the xenophobia that led to the annihilation of our grandparents has no place in this world.” The rabbi added that, for non-Jews, the ritual of setting aside a time to mourn those who were persecuted for their beliefs also has meaning. “Never Again exists beyond the confines or our personal stories and independent identities. Never Again requires each of us who care about the future of civilization to bear witness to the pain wrought by silent complicity, audacious hate and by global indifference.”
Among the most poignant moments in the program was when Holocaust survivors and two grandchildren of survivors each came forward to light one of six candles and to tell their stories. Those who took part in the ceremony included Henry Fenichel, who was born in the Netherlands and was sent to the transit camp of Westerbork and then to Bergen Belsen. He and his mother were able to escape by sheer luck when they were part of an exchange transport to Palestine. Fenichel lit a candle in memory of his father, who died in Auschwitz.
Another survivor, Zahava Rendler, (originally named Golda Feuerberg) was born in Poland. She and her family hid from the Nazis in an underground bunker until her father placed her in the home of a Polish woman. The woman thought it was safer to put her in a convent. After the war her father located her but the nuns didn’t want to let her leave. So her father had to sneak her out. Rendler’s family tried to enter Palestine illegally but was interned on Cyprus until they were allowed into the fledgling Jewish State. She lit a candle for her family members who did not survive and for all of the children who perished in the Shoah.
After the candle lighting, Dr. Albert Weisbrot, a child of Holocaust survivors, chanted El Malei Rachamim, a prayer for the departed. He then recited the Kaddish prayer for the dead.
Several community leaders, including Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus, appeared on screen and pledged to never let anyone forget the horrors of the Shoah.
Paul Booth Jr., Lead Pastor and founder of Legacy Pointe Church, offered a special benediction. Booth asked God to let the current generation remember the strength of the people in the concentration camps. “Let us remember their souls by raising our voice, lifting our hands in unity” against anti-Semitism and hate.
Sarah Weiss concluded the program by reminding everyone that anti-Semitism remains a growing force of evil and that every individual has the ability to speak out against injustice. “It is our sacred mission to raise awareness and carry the stories forward for years to come.”