With the sun seemingly pinpointed on the Israeli flag hanging on a lamppost along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Holocaust survivors and members of Philadelphia’s Jewish community gathered to memorialize the many lives lost in the Shoah.
With the theme of “Resistance, Defiance and Courage: Jewish Acts of Survival,” the annual ceremony held at the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs at 16th Street and the Parkway focused on Jews who fought back against Nazi oppression.
“As the survivors grow fewer in number — but still tremendously strong in spirit — it falls upon all the rest of us to remember, to learn and to teach others,” said Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell from a stage set up next to the monument.
Sponsored by the Memorial Committee for the Six Million Jewish Martyrs of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the event featured an address by Israeli Consul General Uriel Palti, music by the choir of Temple Sinai in Dresher and a performance by Cantor Isaac Horowitz from Congregation Sons of Israel in Cherry Hill, N.J.
Amy Blum, director of the JCRC’s Center for Holocaust Awareness, estimated the crowd at 1,500 people.
After the Philadelphia County Council of Jewish War Veterans opened the event with a color-guard procession, members of the community read names of the deceased, while others laid wreaths at the base of the statue.
During the “March of the Children,” teens walked with posters bearing photos of Jews who resisted the Nazi campaign of mass murder, through attacks on Germans or through the more passive resistance of helping Jews obtain documents.
“The motto was to live in dignity and to die in dignity,” said Leanore B. Brookman, co-chairperson for the Memorial Committee’s Yizkor Planning Committee.
While Philadelphia Orchestra violinist Philip Kates played softly in the background, Jewish community leaders lit six candles — one for each million people killed in the tragedy.
Two resolutions were presented at the event. The first, delivered by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), stated that the U.S. Senate joined the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia in honoring the courage of those who resisted. And a Philadelphia City Council resolution designated the week of April 24 to April 30 as the Annual Remembrance of the Six Million Jewish Martyrs.
Keynote speaker Hadassah Lieberman — the wife of Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.), and whose own parents survived Nazi concentration camps — spoke about how many men and women initially kept quiet about their experiences in the years following the Shoah. “We were self-conscious because it didn’t seem like people were that interested,” she said.
Lieberman also praised survivors and their families for having the courage to overcome: “We are a special generation to have survived an attempt on our lives. We were supposed to be decimated, and here we are.”
Speakers also addressed the tragedy now raging in the Darfur region of Sudan, where more than 400,000 people have perished in what is widely seen as a campaign of government-sponsored genocide.
“When mass murder and mass expulsion are perpetrated on another people, lo tishkach — ‘Do not forget!’ ” said Rabbi David Gutterman, executive director of the Vaad: Board of Rabbis of Greater Philadelphia. “You have an obligation to stand up and speak out.”
Rendell also stressed the need for those of all religious faiths to vocalize their opposition against the atrocities in Sudan.
“We have to be the loudest and clearest in our opposition to what is happening in Darfur,” said the governor, “because if it can happen to Africans in Darfur, it can happen to any of us.”