By MARSHA HALPERT
At sundown on Tuesday night, Oct. 4 2022, Jews all around the world began celebrating Yom Kippur the holiest day of the year. It is a time to reflect on how one wants to be better person, Yom Kippur is also a time to remember deceased loved ones, including those who were slain in the Holocaust. This note is my way of paying tribute to them.
The first tribute I want to make is to the victims of the Holocaust- about six million Jewish men, women and children as well as 3 million others including Soviet POWs, the disabled, the mentally and physically infirm and homosexuals who were killed.
In the beginning, Jews were shot. They fell into mass graves dug to collect their falling bodies. These killings took place in many local areas. Later, Jews were forced into cattle cars, train cars originally meant to carry animals for slaughter. The train car doors were closed and locked. The journey to the concentration camp killing centers began. No food, water or toilets were provided throughout the journey, which could last several days. Many people died in those train cars.
In the concentration camps, large gas chambers were built to kill Jews more efficiently, After being gassed, the corpses were removed and thrown into large ovens where their bodies were burned to ashes.
I opened a new box of Sabbath candles;
The candles stood erect with not a space
between them; They were holy candles;
Like the candles, our Jewish grandmothers and grandfathers, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers stood erect with not a space between them. They died in the gas chambers;
They too were holy.
My second tribute is to those who survived the Holocaust. It was you that fought back against the hunger, physical and mental brutality and the grotesque experiments conducted on your bodies and minds. You had the will to survive; the courage to create new families and build new lives in foreign lands.
Holocaust survivors gave my husband and I life. My husband was named after his father’s first son who died in the Auschwitz camp. His father was sent to a labor camp. All camp prisoners had numbers tattoed on their arms. My father’s number was B-115419. My father was called by his number, not by name, further dehumanizing his treatment.
The Nazis wanted to kill all the Jews in Eastern Europe. Million of others were also targeted by the Nazis. They included gypsies, physically and mentally handicapped people, homosexuals and political prisoners. They were targeted for death; they were not systematically targeted to be wiped off the face of the earth as were the Jews.
My last tribute goes to the Righteous Gentiles. They risked their own and their family’s lives to help Jews and others. Some hid Jews in their basements, attics or secret rooms. Some hid babies and young children in wagons filled with hay when transporting them to convents and Christian homes for protection. Anne Frank and her family were hidden and were brought food even though the family protecting them had meager rations. Righteous Gentles built escape tunnels in case Nazi soldiers came to look for Jews or other targeted people. In at least one case, one person fatally shot a soldier when she felt that she had no other alternative. When the war was over, some Righteous Gentiles tried to unite the children they had hidden with their families. Many times this was impossible as parents or other family members had not survived or could not be found.
Often, I ask myself if I would have had the same courage that many Righteous Gentiles demonstrated to save people. I truly don’t know but I hope I would.
ED. Note: To note Kristallnacht, which happened Nov. 9-10, 1938, the Interfaith Confronting Bigotry Commemoration of the Capital Region will be held in hopes of uniting the community against prejudice. The free program will be held at Page Hall on the University at Albany’s downtown campus, 135 Western Ave., Albany, on Thursday, Nov. 10, at 7 p.m. A documentary film,“The Rescuers” that details the efforts of many Righteous Gentiles in saving Jews will be shown.