Above: Among the lighters of the six memorial flames at the conclusion of the Yom HaShoah commemoration are Harry Maziar, Rabbi Joseph Polak, Abe and Marlene Besser, Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens and his wife, Lisa, Ambassador Judith Varnai Shorer, and Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal.
Yom HaShoah was May 5, but the Marcus Jewish Community Center held its community commemoration three days later on Mother’s Day, providing the opportunity to celebrate the strength of Jewish women during the Holocaust.
Child survivor Rabbi Joseph Polak spoke at the Marcus JCC’s Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden about his journey surviving two Nazi camps, Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen, with his mother and being separated and reunited before fleeing with her to Canada in 1948.
“The Holocaust did not end in 1945,” he told the crowd. “It is still going on for the survivors, even today.”
Rabbi Polak’s memoir, “After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring,” which won a National Jewish Book Award last year, explores his attempts to deal with the past, something he refused to do until he was nearly 50 years old.
The now-74-year-old rabbi spoke of the response he received after moving to Montreal with his mother when people heard he was a child survivor.
Rabbi Polak said the first prayer he learned was the Kaddish, so he could mourn for his father, who was killed in the Holocaust. No one at the shul in Montreal asked him why a 6-year-old was saying Kaddish, and no one asked him where his father was. That attitude, he said, was almost as damaging to him as being at the Nazi camps.
After Rabbi Polak spoke, members of the Atlanta Jewish community stepped up to light the Besser memorial’s six flames for the 6 million who perished during the Holocaust.
The event was closed out by the El Maleh Rachamim memorial prayer, led by Cantor Lauren Furman Adesnik of Temple Emanu-El, and the Mourner’s Kaddish, led by the JCC’s Rabbi Brian Glusman.
Photos by David R. Cohen