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Observing Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

April 19, 2012

6 million

It’s hard for most of us to comprehend how big that number is and how many it represents. For most Jews, however, the figure 6 million always means one thing: the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Today, April 19, 2012, is Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is a day to remember the 6 million Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. Today Sophie, Bryan and I will light our yahrzeit (memorial) candle to honor those souls.

“Never forget” is the phrase most identified with this tortured part of the past. Holocaust victims especially take this phrase as their marching order and vow to teach the next generations about the Holocaust. Because only by remembering can we assure it will not happen again.

In honor of Yom HaShoah, I’m sharing a piece I wrote for my congregation about remembering the past and honoring our ancestors. The article below profiled Holocaust survivor Lou Dunst and how he has chosen to honor the past. I am blessed to be able to use my writing to remember Shoah victims and help tell their stories.

As I look at the ever-glowing flame of the yahrzeit candle today, I am grateful to do my part to never forget.

Honoring a Mother and Father – And An Entire Congregation

Originally printed in the Congregation Beth Israel Tidings publication (March 2012).

The Fifth Commandment tells us “honor your mother and father.” Longtime Beth Israel member Lou Dunst laments that he never got that chance, “because I lost my parents in Auschwitz.” But Lou and his wife Estelle, a Beth Israel member since childhood, have found a most unique way to honor them now, through a significant gift to our Torah Project. They are dedicating the Ten Commandments – especially the fifth verse – to Lou’s parents, Mordechi ben Daniel and Priva bat Israel.

[Read more about the Torah Project that Sophie, Bryan and I participated in recently.]

Lou’s choice has additional significance. Seventy-three years ago Lou became a Bar Mitzvah chanting the Torah portion containing the Ten Commandments.

Lou’s determination to honor the past is also evident in his continued commitment to talk about his own past. He frequently tells his story to congregations, churches, schools, and universities. And the story is remarkable.

As a teenager in what was then Czechoslovakia, Lou’s family was rounded up by Nazis and brought to a ghetto in Hungary and then to Auschwitz. From there, Lou and his brother were sent to Ebensee, a sub-camp of Mauthausen, which was considered one of the most diabolic of the camps. There Lou deteriorated and when barely able to walk and scarsely alive, Lou was placed among a pile of bodies waiting to die. Then, on May 6, 1945, the camp was liberated by the American army.

With the help of his brother and the army commander, Bob Persinger, Lou was saved and taken to a hospital in Prague to recover. Lou firmly believes it is his obligation to continue sharing his tale of the Holocaust, even now, 67 years after his liberation.

“We are dying out,” he says. “Soon there will be no one left and it will not be possible to look in the eyes of the people who were there and get the truthful answers.”

Never Forget

13 Comments leave one →
  1. April 19, 2012 1:10 am

    I have been thinking about Yom Hashoah a lot recently and not just for the obvious reasons. We just found out about some more family members who were murdered by the Nazis.

    And I find myself wondering who they were as people and what they were like. How much did we lose collectively as the Jewish people and as people of the world. Just incomprehensible.

    • April 23, 2012 11:34 pm

      I’m sorry for your loss. I cannot imagine what a shock that must be to learn about something so horrific now, so many years later. It really is incomprehensible.

  2. April 19, 2012 5:42 pm

    I didn’t know the significance of today~ Thanks for sharing.

    • April 23, 2012 11:34 pm

      You’re welcome! And thank you for reading.

  3. April 20, 2012 11:09 am

    This heartrending post made me weep profusely Leah. Bless you for your participation in such a worthy project, for using your talent for your Maker, and for passing the truth of the Holocaust on to the next generation.

    • April 23, 2012 11:35 pm

      Thank you, Elizabeth, for such kind words.

  4. April 23, 2012 7:30 am

    Such a beautiful and important post, Leah…. thank goodness for people like Lou and now you.

    • April 23, 2012 11:35 pm

      Thanks, Julia. I am so grateful that Lou shared his story with me too.

  5. jolinapetersheim permalink
    April 23, 2012 9:55 am

    I remember the day I walked through the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. I could barely speak after I left, yet the images burned themselves in my mind. If I close my eyes, I can see them still. Thank for helping me to remember not to forget, Leah. I could feel your heart behind this post. It was beautifully done.

    • April 23, 2012 11:36 pm

      Thank you so much, Jolina! I have never been to the museum in D.C., but to one in Los Angeles and in Israel. The images and stories really do stay with you for so long. It’s hard to imagine, which is why it’s important not to forget. Thanks for reading!

  6. April 23, 2012 9:16 pm

    This is a wonderful tribute to the lives lost and keeping their memories alive. 🙂

    • April 23, 2012 11:36 pm

      Thank you so much! I feel fortunate to use my gift of writing to honor those that suffered before.

  7. April 27, 2012 9:59 pm

    Yes, beautiful job, Leah. When George and I went to DC for our anniversary in February, we were going to visit the Holocaust Museum, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. All those sweet faces who were wiped off the face of the earth by pure evil. My grandmother and her sisters came to this country as a teenager to escape the Tzar’s pogroms. They had to leave their parents and brother and never knew what happened to them. Their baby sister was taken to Uruguay. Such sadness. Next time we go to DC, I am going to visit the museum, though.

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