Two recent observances - one in Springfield, IL and one in Skokie - guided attendees toward a more comprehensive understanding of what "Never Again" and "Never Forget" mean today. The ceremonies honored the memory of the six million men, women and children murdered in the Holocaust and recognized survivors, partisans and Resistance fighters, righteous gentiles, and other upstanders.
"As we move away from the 20th Century and the number of survivors living among us dwindles, it is particularly important for us to remember that an entire civilization of European Jewry was almost destroyed at the hands of the Nazis and their collaborators," said JUF Government Affairs Committee Chair David Golder at the Annual Statewide Yom HaShoah observance in Springfield April 12. "We remember and honor every man, woman and child murdered. We honor the survivors who continue to tell their stories and keep the memory alive."
As in years past, Governor Bruce Rauner reiterated his commitment to ensuring that hate and bigotry have no place in Illinois. He also issued a proclamation declaring the week of April 8-15, 2018, as Illinois Holocaust Remembrance Days. The proclamation urges all Illinoisans to continue to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to honor survivors.
State Rep. Jonathan Carroll reminded attendees that hate still exists today and pledged to work to stop "the cycle of hate that ravages our country."
"Yom HaShoah will always remain as an important reminder of the devastation and destruction the Holocaust caused not only to Jews like myself, but many other people that didn't fit the 'mold.' Those people who are different. Those people who don't meet a dangerous standard," he said.
Holocaust Survivor Ida Paluch Kersz, who was a Hidden Child, shared her experience with the gathering and detailed losing her mother and then being separated from an older sister and a twin brother. She reconnected with her brother more than 50 years later in the mid-1990s.
"I tell my story because I am a living witness," she said. "So many people don't believe that the Holocaust happened. But I'm here to say that I lived through it."
The program also included an invocation by Rabbi Bryna Milkow of Congregation Anshai Emeth of Peoria, Ill.; a benediction by Rev. Susan Phillips of First Presbyterian Church of Springfield; and a recitation of the Mourner's Kaddish prayer led by Rabbi Barry Marks of Temple Israel of Springfield. Marks lit six memorial candles, each representing one million Jews put to death by the Nazis during World War II as well as 600,000 "righteous gentiles" who helped save Jews, even at great danger to themselves.
Meanwhile, at Sheerit HaPleitah's 73 rd annual Chicago-area Holocaust memorial service, survivors and their families recommitted to ensuring memory and action against hate go together as they memorialized the victims of the Nazi regime. Sheerit Hapleitah is a coordinating committee of Chicago-area Holocaust survivors' groups.
"'Never Again' means not here and not now, whether it's hate directed against us or any act of hate committed against any person or any institution in our city and our country. We will not stand idly by as hate tears at the fabric of our great nation," said Jewish Community Relations Council Chair Bill Silverstein, who represented JUF at the service.
Silverstein highlighted JUF-funded Holocaust Community Service at CJE SeniorLife, which supports and sustains Holocaust survivors through housing, food and medical services. He also spoke about JUF's many educational programs for children and adults that focus on the lessons of the Holocaust and teach real-life advocacy skills.
Other speakers included Illinois Lt. Gov. Evelyn Sanguinetti; Israel's Consul General to the Midwest, Aviv Ezra; Skokie Mayor George Van Dusen; and Rabbi Dr. Julian Ungar-Sargon, who spoke about his personal journey and his study of post-Holocaust trauma.
A high point of the service each year is the candle lighting ceremony honoring the six million martyrs, including one and a half million innocent children, who were murdered only because they were Jews. Each candle was lit by survivors and their children and grandchildren, who represent the failure of the Nazis' ultimate goal.
"We must be relentless in ensuring that the world must know what happened," said Renee Birnberg Silberman, member of Sheerit Hapleitah's memorial committee. "Memory is naming the evil, but it is also the capacity to overcome evil."