Year-round, rabbis, educators and parents teach the lessons of the Holocaust — the mass extermination of 6 million Jews who died during World War II at the hands of the Nazi killing machines.
But there is one special day during the year when the Jewish community gathers to remember, and that day is known as “Holocaust Remembrance Day” (Yom HaShoah in Hebrew).
Formalized by the Israeli government in 1951, the date selected is the 27th of the Hebrew month of Nisan, which is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. This year, that date falls on the secular calendar on Thursday, April 19. (However, as Jewish holidays begin at sunset the night before, the event will be observed from Wednesday sundown, April 18 to sundown on April 19.)
The world over, people gather to mourn those who were murdered, those who fought and died and those who suffered. In Israel, at 10 a.m. in the morning, a siren is sounded and the entire country comes to a halt, drivers pull their cars over to the side of the road and everyone stands for a moment of silence.
Each year, there is an official state commemoration held at the State Capitol in Hartford. Holocaust survivor and Westport resident Anita Ron Schorr will be the keynote speaker at this year’s event, to take place on Friday, April 20, at 11 a.m., in the State Senate Chambers.
Several West Hartford synagogues mail members special yellow candles to promote remembrance. The candles are to be lit on Wednesday evening, April 18, and a meditation is read, which says in part: “Remember the hopes of the slain by sending redemption to Your shattered world. In spite of everything which strangles hope, help us to continue the sustaining song of their lives.”
In West Hartford, the annual community-wide Yom HaShoah Commemoration will be held on Sunday, April 22, at 7 p.m. at Beth El Temple, 2626 Albany Avenue. Free and open to the public, the event will include guest speaker Judith Altmann, vice president of the Holocaust Child Survivors of Connecticut.
According to a press release issued by the Mandell JCC, a co-sponsor of the event along with the Jewish Federation Association of Connecticut, Altmann was born in Jasina, Czechoslovakia, which was invaded by the Nazis in 1939 when she was 14 years old. She lived under Nazi occupation until 1944 when she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz and the Essen and Gelsenkirchen labor camps. After surviving the Death March to Bergen Belsen, she was liberated by the British Army in May 1945. She and her late husband moved to Stamford in 1975 after living in the New York area for many years.
Program highlights also include a musical program directed by Cantor Joseph Ness of Beth El Temple, featuring youth choirs from the Bess and Paul Sigel Hebrew Academy, Solomon Schechter Day School and HaZamir Hartford; a multi-generational community procession; Jewish veterans Honor Guard and a candle-lighting ceremony pairing teens and survivors.
Doors will open at 6 p.m. for an hour-long continuous public Reading of the Names of Holocaust victims and survivors who have passed away.
“As survivors vanish from our midst, and first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust are less and less each year, the next generations have the obligation to honor those who suffered and died in the greatest tragedy in modern Jewish history,” commented Irina Margulis, chair of the Greater Hartford Holocaust Commemoration Committee.
Other events in West Hartford to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day include:
* Wednesday, April 18, 10-11:30 a.m., University of Hartford Greenberg Center for Judaic Studies, Sherman Museum. Author Dr. William Freund, who escaped Nazi Germany and made a new life in New York City, will present a series of readings from his book, “The Cookie that Saved My Family.” This event is open to children and signed copies of the book will be available. Call (860) 677-9662 for more information.
* Sunday, April 22, 10 a.m., at B’nai Tikvoh-Sholom, 180 Still Road on the West Hartford/Bloomfield town line. Author Hanna Marcus will discuss her book, “Sidonia’s Threat: The Secrets of a Mother and a Daughter Sewing a New Life in America,” about a Holocaust survivor and her daughter forging a new life in Springfield, Mass. Call (860) 243-3576 for more information.