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Hillary Sklar and Jack Arnold place the 50th-anniversary floral yellow star amid steady rain at the start of the ceremony. – Photos by Michael Jacobs

By Michael Jacobs | mjacobs@atljewishtimes.com

The annual Yom HaShoah observance at Greenwood Cemetery on Sunday, April 19, remembered not only the Holocaust and its victims, but also the survivors who came together 50 years ago to the build the Memorial to the Six Million in the southwest Atlanta cemetery’s Jewish section.

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A high school student helps a survivor light one of the memorial candles.

Rain fell throughout the ceremony and forced people to crowd under tents or deploy umbrellas but did not stop the community from turning out in large numbers on the 72nd anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

“From the bottom of my heart, take my thanks for being here,” said Hershel Greenblat, the vice chairman of the Yom HaShoah planning committee.

Coming 70 years after the liberation of the death camps, the gathering was a celebration of those who survived to make new lives in Atlanta in a continuing victory over the Nazis.

“We owe you the deepest debt of gratitude,” keynote speaker Stuart Eizenstat said to the dozens of survivors in attendance. “You are our connection to our rich Jewish heritage in Europe.”

Jeannette Pichulik Zukor, who chaired the planning committee, explained that the survivors called themselves griners, or greenhorns, in contrast to the established Jewish community in Atlanta. Having lost their families in Europe, they became one another’s extended family. They spent holidays together and shared one another’s simchas, always with plenty of food and schnapps.

“They lived the American dream,” she said, but they never ceased to be greenhorns.

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Candles, flowers and stones remain on the memorial after the ceremony.

They got together in September 1964 to form Hemshech so they could build a memorial to their lost loved ones where they could say Kaddish, recalled Karen Lansky Edlin, whose mother, Lola Lansky, was one of the leaders in that effort.

The survivors were largely on their own. They raised the $8,500 so that survivor Abe Besser could build the design of survivor Ben Hirsch. The Southern Israelite, the predecessor to the Atlanta Jewish Times, opposed the creation of a stone monument, as did many in the community. The Jewish Federation didn’t help Hemshech and didn’t join in the annual commemoration at the memorial until the 1970s.

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An honor guard stands watch by the Israeli and American flags in front of the memorial while Liliane Kshensky Baxter leads a responsive reading.

For 50 years, the survivors and their children and grandchildren have gathered at the memorial to mourn and remember. Edlin said the Memorial to the Six Million has become a memorial to the many survivors who have died the past seven decades. “The memorial is now a memorial to everyone.”

Edlin made a special presentation to Hirsch as the architect of the memorial, which is the second-oldest Holocaust monument in the United States and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Hirsch also led the chanting of Kaddish.

While the official purpose of Yom HaShoah is remembrance, much of the ceremony focused on the future. Edlin said remembrance is essential to ensure the existence of the Jewish people and all of mankind.

She and other children of survivors, such as Enoch Goodfriend, who sang “The Partisan Hymn” in memory of his father, Cantor Isaac Goodfriend, played important roles in the planning and execution of the ceremony. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors carried yellow flowers into the memorial.

Grady High School senior Jack Arnold and Lakeside High School senior Hillary Sklar from Congregation Shearith Israel placed a special 50th-anniversary floral yellow star. The Davis Academy chorus and the Epstein School band provided music.

In a change to mark the 50th anniversary, every survivor at the ceremony lighted a memorial candle, assisted by high school students from the Jewish Student Union and J-Serve, who brought the candles into the monument.

The survivors will be gone in 50 years when the community celebrates the memorial’s centennial, Zukor said, but “hopefully you will continue the tradition to gather here.”

The multigenerational involvement represented what Federation Chairman Howard Feinsand described as the balance required by Yom HaShoah between memory and action.

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Members of the Air Force place memorial stones inside the Memorial to the Six Million after the ceremony.

“Remembering the past will not matter if we do not move forward,” including standing up to rising anti-Semitism, he said.

Eizenstat, in remarks that served as a preview of his longer speech that afternoon at the Breman Museum, explained some of the challenges requiring action from the world’s 13.5 million Jews — still fewer than the 17 million who lived in 1939.

He said it is unacceptable that so many of the 500,000 remaining survivors live in or near poverty, including 35 percent of those in Israel and 25 percent of those in the United States. He decried the fact that only eight states require Holocaust education in their school systems. He said the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe, from Hungary to France, is astounding, undeniable and almost unimaginable for Americans.

America itself has two very different Jewish worlds, Eizenstat said. Half of the 6.5 million U.S. Jews are engaged in vibrant Jewish lives, but the other half are assimilating to the point that they are disappearing.

But he closed on an optimistic note: From the Assyrians and Babylonians to the Nazis and Soviets, every empire that tried to destroy the Jews has disappeared into the dustbin of history. “They don’t exist; we do,” Eizenstat said. “We have survived, albeit in small numbers. There’s reason to believe we will continue to survive.”

Photos: Yom HaShoah observance