Over 250 people attended the 35th annual Maplewood-South Orange Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Service, honoring survivors, remembering the dead, and hearing a warning by a child of survivors about the “trivialization and desensitization of the Holocaust.”
Held at St. George’s Episcopal Church in Maplewood on April 22, the event drew area clergy, Holocaust survivors and their descendants, and members of an interfaith choir, ranging in age from middle-schoolers through seniors, led by Cantor Perry Fine of South Orange.
Inclement weather forced the cancellation of the annual outdoor procession, while the planned keynote speaker, Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League and himself a Holocaust survivor, cancelled his appearance when he was unexpectedly called to the White House by President Barack Obama.
Ron Meier, ADL New York regional director, took his place, marking the first time at the community ceremony that a child of survivors, rather than a survivor, served as a keynote speaker.
Meier, a member of Congregation Beth El in South Orange, spoke of the “trivialization and desensitization of the Holocaust” in popular culture, and pointed to surveys by ADL showing anti-Semitism in European countries is “disturbingly high.”
“More than 50 percent of people indicated that ‘Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust,’” he said.
The ceremony opened with a blast of a shofar and a candle-lighting procession. The rector of St. George’s, the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, offered an opening prayer, invoking recent genocides in Darfur, Rwanda, Sudan, Bosnia/Herzegovina, and Chechnya. “Do not sit by this time,” he said. “Much of the world sat by during World War II when millions were exterminated. We will not stand by. We will not be quiet.”
The core of the service was the lighting of an elaborate candelabrum on the stage by 10 survivors and one descendant of Wladyslawa Choms, the “Angel of Lvov,” a Polish woman who saved Jews during the Holocaust. As each got up to light a candle, their stories of survival were presented by Barbara Wind, director of the Holocaust Council of MetroWest, alternating with Maplewood resident Gary Berger, longtime member of the Maplewood-South Orange Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee, as cellist Marty Steinberg of South Orange played a mournful piece.
Participating survivors included Helen Paktor, Gerda Bikales, Norbert Bikales, Hedy Brasch, Danuta Kozlowki, Harry Ettlinger, Gina Lanceter, Nusha Wyner, Jean Gluck, Marsha Kreuzman, and Nessa Ben Asher.
Pearl Randall Lehrhoff of Maplewood was presented with the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education’s 2012 Sister Rose Thering Holocaust Education Award for her many years of work on the South Orange/Maplewood Interfaith Holocaust Remembrance Committee. The event itself was established by Max Randall, her late husband.
In his talk, Meier spoke of his parents and grandparents, who came from the small town of Bocholt, Germany, near the border with the Netherlands. His father’s parents owned a small drapery shop, and his mother’s parents owned a merchandise company. They all had a good life, Meier said, “until it came undone.”
In 1936, his father’s family moved to Frankfurt, believing things would be better in a city. Following Kristallnacht in November 1938, his grandfather was arrested with other Jews and sent to Buchenwald. Eventually, his grandmother obtained visas, got his grandfather and children out safely, and they left for England a few months later, ultimately arriving in Boston in 1940.
His mother’s parents weren’t as lucky. They stayed in Bocholt, eventually sending their two daughters to safety in England as part of the “Kindertransport” evacuation. His mother and aunt never saw their parents again.
“What if people stood up every day to say no?” said Meier. “No to prejudice, bigotry, racism. Isn’t that what we’re doing here today? If the Holocaust teaches us one thing, it is wherever, however, whenever good people stood up to say no to anti-Semitism, to bias, Jews lived, Gypsies lived, trade unionists lived, Christian clergy lived. My father and my mother lived.”
Ted Aronson, cantor at Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, led those gathered in El Maleh Rahamim, and Father Eustace Edomobi, pastor of St. Joseph’s Church in Maplewood, offered the priestly benediction to close the program.