Observing Yom HaShoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

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.”

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