A crowd of young and old community members gathered on a rainy day to commemorate Yom HaShoah and honor the lives of 6 million Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
The weather forced the Marcus Jewish Community Center ceremony inside from the Besser Holocaust Memorial Garden.
Marcus JCC Rabbi Brian Glusman recounted the story of a seder plate relayed by his colleague Rabbi Benjamin Blech. The Jewish artifact was buried and recovered after World War II by a Holocaust survivor, Shmuel.
The plate symbolized Shmuel’s connection to Judaism and his liberation from Auschwitz, Rabbi Glusman said, but those ties were severed when Shmuel’s children sold the heirloom in an estate sale.
“The seder is all about memory,” Rabbi Glusman said. “We were there. We knew what it was like and faced degradation, humiliation and starvation, and harsh labor. It’s because of those hardships that we are able to address those challenges in today’s world and hope to have a better future.”
Rabbi Glusman referenced a recent incident in Milton in which five high school students have been charged with putting anti-Semitic graffiti on a Jewish family’s driveway. “We are here more than 73 years later to remind the world that Jew-hatred is alive and well, once again rearing its ugly head all over the world, even right here in Atlanta.”
He also noted the statistics in a survey released on Yom HaShoah in which 22 percent of U.S. millennials hadn’t heard of or were not sure they had heard of the Holocaust. The same figure for all American adults is 11 percent.
Two-thirds of millennials in the survey could not identify what Auschwitz is.
“That should be unsettling. That should be scary,” Rabbi Glusman said. “Unfortunately, not everyone remembers or knows about the Holocaust, and tragically some choose to forget.”
He said the people gathered at the JCC memorial “are here to remind the world that 6 million Jews, 1.5 million of them children, were murdered. One out of every three Jews then alive. That countries in Europe lost more than 90 percent of their Jewish population in the Shoah.”
Helen Bissell, a Savannah resident who is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, presented the keynote address about her father, Abram Korn.
At 16 he escaped one ghetto in Poland but was recaptured and sent to another. He spent time in eight concentration camps. Bissell said he was beaten and tortured and survived the war by performing different tasks for the Nazis.
Korn was liberated April 11, 1945, at Buchenwald. He later married and had three children.
“He lived life with such joy,” Bissell said as she fought back tears. “He did not give up then, and he did not give up at the end of his life. He showed us in the way he lived every single day that he viewed life as a gift, and instead of being angry and bitter for what he had been through, he was grateful, and I am grateful that G-d gave me to him.”
Marlene and Abe Besser, who donated the memorial garden and its monument, led a procession of people who lighted memorial candles: Spencer Gelernter, Michelle and Sid Gelernter, Margie and Andy Gelernter, Ken Winkler, and Holocaust survivor Bernie Gross. The Atlanta Jewish Male choir, led by Barry Herman, performed El Maleh Rachamim (memorial prayer), followed by the Mourner’s Kaddish, led by Rabbi Glusman.
“No, we will not forget,” Rabbi Glusman said. “Even though our neighbors might, even though the rest of the world might, even though communities might, we will not forget. We will fight, and we will speak out and will continue to remind the world, because that is our job, that is our mandate, that is our commandment. Lo tishkasch, we will never forget.”