The children of the Holocaust — those who survived, those who perished, and those who never were and never will be — are the focus of this year’s Yom HaShoah commemoration Sunday, May 1, at the Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery.
“Now that the older survivors are not with us — just a handful — what we’ve got left are survivors who were children,” said Jeannette Zukor, who is chairing the 51st annual ceremony organized by the survivor group Eternal Life-Hemshech at the Greenwood memorial. “Not all of them got out by the Kindertransport.”
When World War II began in September 1939, an estimated 1.6 million Jewish children lived in areas the Nazis would eventually control; 1.5 million Jewish children were dead by May 1945. Death camps such as Auschwitz aimed to kill those under age 15 upon arrival.
Most of the children who survived spent at least part of the war in hiding, Zukor said, and they had to scrounge and suffer through the hunger, disease and terror of the ghettos and brutal occupation.
Such was the experience in Hungary of Robert Ratonyi, the featured speaker at the May 1 ceremony. Born in Budapest in 1938, Ratonyi saw his father taken away as forced labor, then lost his mother one terrifying night in October 1944 when all the adults were marched off, leaving the children to fend for themselves. He didn’t see his mother again until the summer after the war ended in 1945.
“It’s important for me to tell my story,” Ratonyi, 78, told students at Georgia Tech in March. “Twenty years from now there will be articles written saying the Holocaust didn’t exist, but you will have heard from someone who was there.”
The chance to hear Ratonyi and to see each of the dozens of survivors expected at the ceremony light a candle will come at 11 a.m. May 1 at Greenwood Cemetery at 1173 Cascade Circle in southwest Atlanta. The event, to be held rain or shine, is free, as is admission that day to the Holocaust exhibit at the Breman Museum.