BY RON FEINBERG / WEB EDITOR //

Greenwood Cemetery is a melancholy place, a vast expanse of rolling fields dotted with trees, manicured shrubs, thousands of tombstones and one soaring monument: the Memorial to The Six Million. It is here that next week Benjamin Hirsh will offer his thoughts on the Holocaust, its impact on his life and why it continues to have meaning in our world today.

Benjamin Hirsch will be the keynote speaker at this year’s community-wide Yom HaShoah commemoration. PHOTO / Breman Museum

Benjamin Hirsch will be the keynote speaker at this year’s community-wide Yom HaShoah commemoration. PHOTO / Breman Museum

It’s particularly fitting that he’s been chosen to provide the keynote address at this year’s Yom HaShoah observance on April 7. After all, he’s the architect who designed the iconic Memorial almost 50 years ago; a euphonic blend of chiseled stone and soaring torches, it was dedicated in 1965 during the first official Yom HaShoah service in the city.

Tens of thousands of people – Holocaust survivors and their families, Jews and gentiles – have made their way to the cemetery each spring, keeping a promise to “never forget” the millions of Jews murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

This year’s observance, the 48th-annual community-wide Yom HaShoah commemoration, is sponsored by Eternal-Life Hemshech (an organization of Holocaust survivors, their descendants and people dedicated to commemorating the Six Million Jewish victims of the Holocaust), the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta and the William Breman Jewish Heritage and Holocaust Museum.

“One day a year, I think it’s very important that we remember,” said Rhona Storch Albright, the chair of this year’s event and the child of Holocaust survivors. “We all know that hatred still exists, and we need to make sure that we never forget what happened so it will never happen again.”

Hirsch, a well-respected figure in Atlanta’s Jewish community and an award-winning architect, spent his early childhood in Germany, an eyewitness to the madness that took hold of the country after the Nazis came to power in the 1930s. Through the courage and compassion of friends, family and strangers he narrowly escaped the Holocaust in a Kindertransport mission which ultimately landed him and four of his siblings in Atlanta.

Much of what he’ll be talking about on Yom HaShoah will focus on his miraculous survival.

“If you don’t have help, you’re not going to survive,” Hirsch said in a recent interview, explaining how he and other children made it out of Europe as the Nazi war machine was on the move. “You can’t do everything by yourself; in life, there are challenges, and you often need help.”

For Hirsh, there were brave souls willing to hide him away and organizations that offered funds and logistical aid. But it was his family, specifically his mother, that set him on the long and winding road that eventually brought him to America – and freedom.

“If my mother had not made the right decisions…well, it was all up to her,” he said. “She did all the work, researched and found out about the Kindertransports and decided what needed to be done.”

It’s all these people, groups, organizations and, of course, the Six Million that need to be recalled and memorialized on Yom HaShoah. Many think it’s a duty.

“Our Yom HaShoah commemoration is a reminder of the dangers of indifference,” said Dr. Lili Baxter, director of the Weinberg Center for Holocaust Education at the Breman. “Each of us must take responsibility for confronting hatred and persecution in all its forms and for promoting human dignity, democracy and peace.”

Atlanta’s Yom HaShoah observance, the 48th-Annual Community-Wide Holocaust Commemoration, will be held at 11 a.m., Sun., April 7 at the Memorial to the Six Million at Greenwood Cemetery (1173 Cascade Circle SW, Atlanta 30311). For additional information, visit thebreman.org or contact Judy Schancupp at (678) 222-3707 or jschanupp@thebreman.org.