For the 68th consecutive year, Chicago-area Holocaust survivors and the community at large will come together to honor the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished, and to recall the acts that made the genocide possible.
The annual Holocaust Memorial Service begins at 1:30 p.m. Sunday, April 7, at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, 8825 East Prairie Road in Skokie. Hundreds of the last remaining survivors, along with their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, will participate in the largest gathering of Holocaust survivors in the Midwest and one of the largest in the United States.
The event, which marks the 68th anniversary of the liberation from the concentration camps, is organized each year by Sheérit HaPleitah of Metropolitan Chicago, the umbrella organization for Chicago-area Holocaust survivor groups, and is co-sponsored by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue.
"This annual memorial honors the memory of our 6 million martyrs, including the 1½ million innocent children who perished only because they were Jews," said Charles Lipshitz, President of Sheérit HaPleitah. "We cannot let the world forget that a modern society, Nazi Germany, was capable of committing such atrocities. Many reactionary forces are hard at work to change history and deny that the Holocaust ever happened. We must be vigilant not to allow this to occur."
"We will not remain silent in the face of Iranian, Arab, or any other entity's wish to make Israel disappear," said I. M. Hubscher, Chairman of the community commemoration. "This circle of violence must stop, and we, as children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of survivors, will continue to lead the effort to eradicate hate, and the death and destruction it causes."
"The number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling to a precious few as we approach the 68th anniversary of the end of World War II," said Larry Schwartz, President of the Association of Descendants of the Shoah-Illinois, Inc. "We, as children of survivors, are taking an active role in reminding the world that the crimes of Nazi Germany can happen again if we do not maintain vigilance. The legacy of the Holocaust survivors will be sustained and enhanced through our education and outreach efforts, for we shall never forget the sacrifices of the 6 million Jews who did not live to see the Nazi war machine defeated."
Speakers at the 2013 service will include the Honorable Roey Gilad, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest; Mayor George Van Dusen, of Skokie; Stephanie Sklar, Director of Domestic Affairs for the Jewish United Fund's Jewish Community Relations Council; Rabbi Sam Biber, spiritual leader of the synagogue; Charles Lipshitz; and event co-chair Henry Jelen. Members of the Jewish War Veterans-Skokie Post 328, together with members of the Boy Scouts Troop 243, will present colors. Yaakov Katz, a well-known military correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, will offer insights into the situation in the Middle East.
A high point each year is the candle-lighting ceremony honoring the 6 million Jewish victims. The ceremony will be conducted by Sherry Rubinstein Warso of Dor L'Dor, the Young Leadership Division of Sheérit HaPleitah, and Miriam Hubscher, with participation by children and grandchildren of local Holocaust survivors. Proclamations by Gov. Pat Quinn, Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, and Mayor Van Dusen of Skokie, will be published in the ad journal.
Skokie has long been supportive of Sheérit HaPleitah's efforts to sustain the memory of the Holocaust. When, in 1978, the American Nazi Party chose Skokie for its infamous demonstration, Sheérit HaPleitah helped lead the opposition, with the assistance of then-Mayor Albert J. Smith and the village trustees. That struggle was portrayed in a made-for-television movie starring Danny Kaye.
A documentary by Todd Whitman on the days leading up to the 1978 infamous demonstration aired on PBS this past January. The film featured many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, as well as activists from the next generation who stood ready to protect the survivor community.
Sheérit HaPleitah later led the movement to construct a monument on the Skokie Village Green in memory of the Holocaust victims. The statue was built on land donated by the village, with funds collected from individual donors, synagogues and the Jewish United Fund.
The sculpture, by Edward Chesney, depicts three generations, torn prayer books, a menorah and other items symbolizing the destruction of European Jewry. It was unveiled May 31, 1987. That night, the memorial received worldwide attention after it was desecrated with spray paint, including the epithet "Jew liars" and other messages of hate.
"This insidious act made the message on the dedication plaque even more meaningful," Lipshitz said. "It reads, `This monument will remain in perpetuity as a reminder of what hate can do to mankind if decent people are not vigilant to forestall such a calamity in the future.' "
Sheérit HaPleitah includes the following groups: Association of Descendents of the Shoah-Illinois, Inc.; Hofesh Chapter-Na'amat USA; the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center; Jewish Lithuanian Club of Chicago; Laor Organization; Midwest Chestochover Society; New Citizens Club; Workman's Circle; The United Chicago Jews of Hungarian Descent, Inc.; Association of Child Survivors; Dr. Janusz Korczak B'nai Brith Lodge; and Dor L'Dor, a group of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who will play an important role of carrying on our legacy.