Designed to be a program of remembrance, the 25th annual Interfaith Holocaust Commemoration Commit-tee's Holocaust Memorial Service held at Temple Beth El Sunday in Dunkirk gave pause for just that cause.
Dozens of community members and those outside of Chautauqua County packed into Temple Beth El Sunday as leaves fell from surrounding trees to listen to a powerful service provided by the committee members and other speakers. Held in proximity of the anniversary of "Kristall-nacht," or the "night of the broken glass," and of the remembrance of Veterans' Day, the program sought to remember and say "thank you" to the service veterans who worked to liberate prisoners of Nazi concentration camps.
Sobering readings from each speaker were interspersed with reflective selections from J.S. Bach, provided by Oscar Martinez on the cello.
OBSERVER?Photo by Ann Belcher
Trevor Hahn lights a candle in solemn remembrance of the Holocaust Sunday in Temple Beth El.
Reverend Matt Nycz, a Polish-born Parish priest from Dunkirk's Blessed Mary Angela Parish, explained, "The Nazis began their Poland policy by terrorizing the population. During the first weeks after the invasion, a historian of Polish experience summarizes: 531 towns were burned; various branches of the army and police carried out 714 mass executions, which took the lives of 161,376 people, most of whom were Polish Christians. The Nazi policy was to divide, and thus weaken the Polish Catholic majority."
He went on to describe that at the outbreak of the war, the total population of Poland included 3.3 million Jews, most of which perished in the Holocaust along with an estimated 3 million non-Jewish Poles, whose deaths made room in the East for the resettlement of German families, some of whom were given orphaned Polish children who appeared to be Germanic in nationality and could pass for the German descent.
Reverend Cheni Khonje of The First United Presbyterian Church quoting from Nobel laureate and concentration camp survivor, Elie Wiesel's writings, which further explained how the world remained silent and shut its doors to the plight of Jewish persecution before the destructive Holocaust.
Ships such as the St. Louis and the Struma, all laden with Jews trying to escape with their lives, explained Rev. Khonje, were barred from disembarking to other countries, including Cuba, England, Switzerland and the United States.
"The Germans got the message loud and clear. There would be interference in the extermination of the Jews," she read.
Tom Haynes recounted the writings of Bernhard "Ben" Storch, an American who was a Polish citizen fighting with a Russian attachment in April of 1945 and who helped liberate Sachsenhausen Concentra-tion Camp in Oranienburg, Germany.
"Storch recalls that he and the soldiers he was with were perplexed on their march west by the strange priorities of the German high command. 'German soldiers fell in our hands because they didn't have any transportation. The transportation was strictly designed for the Jews (to be transferred from death camp to death camp); the Jews are the priority. Now, it's mind-boggling. Usually you'd try to save your people first. But no, for the Nazis, that was the main subject: the Jews have to be destroyed.'"
Linda Dunn, of Temple Beth El, and chair of the planning committee which has planned all previous remembrance services, hoped those in attendance heard and took away the messages echoed by all of the speakers Sunday.
"The account from the soldier, Ben Storch: the most important message in that is the hate that's still out there, that still exists. People today heard the consequences of that hatred, but, unfortunately, that hate is still out there and is manifested in different ways," stated Dunn.
She was encouraged by the large attendance and by the attendance and participation of young people in Sunday's service and hopes that more awareness will be raised about the rise of anti-Semitism, particularly through anti-Zionist propaganda in today's society.
Reverend Theresa Kime from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Northern Chautauqua concluded with Elie Wiesel's essay "From One Generation to Another."
"I repeat: I shall live until the last day of my life without understanding In spite of the grief which overwhelms us, we celebrate the love which has preceded it. Amidst the ruins which surround us, we proclaim our passion to start over again.'"