This week we were honored to hold a rededication for the Memorial to the Six Million that is located in the New York office of B’nai B’rith. It was originally dedicated 40 years ago, on November 10, 1976 by a Holocaust committee in New York comprised of representatives of three survivor groups: Leo Baeck Lodge and Chapter; Joseph Popper Lodge and Chapter; and the Liberty Lodge and Chapter.
The memorial is made of oak with the Hebrew words, Zahor (remember), and the first lines of the Mourner’s Kaddish (Yitgadal v'yit kadash sh'mei raba) engraved.
We chose Nov. 1 as the date of the rededication to recognize the anniversary of Kristallnacht (“the Night of Broken Glass”). A candle lighting ceremony was included to remember the 91 Jews who were murdered on that night, 78 years ago, and the 30,000 more who were arrested and sent to concentration camps where hundreds of them died. This gathering was the commitment of one generation to continue to support future generations with an allocation of funds for educational programming for young leadership. The rededication gift was made by the Lissner and Friedman families on behalf of the Leo Baeck Unit, which now also include the members of the Popper and Liberty lodges and chapters.
In B’nai B’rith, programs in observance of Kristallnacht, are held throughout the world, especially those coordinated by B’nai B’rith in Latin America. In 2012, it was hosted by Pope Francis, who was still a cardinal at the time, at the Cathedral in Buenos Aires.
In 2015, the attendees at the B’nai B’rith Policy Conference in Washington, D.C. participated in a commemoration ceremony in remembrance of Kristallnacht. After comments by B’nai B’rith leaders about their personal family experiences and the Holocaust, we shared an audio tape that featured the Children’s Choir of the synagogue of Worms, located in Worms, Germany. On the 50th anniversary of Kristallnacht—the Memorial Committee of Jewish Victims of Nazism from Worms decided to reunite the members of the children’s choir in New York led by Cantor Kurt Wimer. Cantor Wimer was the cantor of the synagogue in Worms from 1933 until the synagogue was destroyed on the night of November 9, 1938. This tape was presented to B’nai B’rith in 1988 after that anniversary event, by a member of B’nai B’rith who was also in the choir to be added to our collection of Shoah awareness programming. The choir sang melodies of the Friday evening synagogue service they had sung as children and described their remembrances of Worms, and the events of Kristallnacht. They dedicated the tape to their families and the other children who were murdered during the Shoah. They knew they were leaving a legacy of memories behind, and a lesson for the world as the tape was also presented to the city of Worms for their archives.
Our candle lighting ceremonies and programming events exist to not just remember the victims of the Holocaust, but to also honor the survivors— eye witnesses who have shared the horror of their experiences with us to remind us to never forget. They rebuilt lives and communities determined to create a future for their children and grandchildren. We depend on future generations and the dedicated members of B’nai B’rith who bring community programming for Holocaust education and awareness to never forget. Educational and cultural programs held throughout the year, help us remember and honor the heritage of the Jewish people lost in the Holocaust and B’nai B’rith’s loss of 175 lodges in Europe.
At this time when our world sees rising anti-Semitism and attacks against Israel, we must remember that there was no Israel at the time of the Shoah. We need to credit the survivors of the Holocaust who helped build the Jewish homeland and their descendants that protect and defend Israel.
I have been fortunate to get to know many people while working for B’nai B’rith. It is a people organization, and I am especially grateful for the connection to the survivors and their families who have made B’nai B’rith a part of their lives. We have much to learn from them and their families. I recall one survivor, sharing what they do when they address students at high school programs. The survivor asks each student to hold her hand, so the students remember that they touched the hand of a Holocaust survivor. She tells the students that there will come a time that they will not be on this earth, and that the students must tell others that they touched a survivor who was real—that they heard and saw this eyewitness to the Holocaust.
Thank you to the Friedman, Lissner and members of the Leo Baeck Unit and all of the survivors and their families who are part of our B’nai B’rith family for touching our lives and making sure we remember.
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