Gov. Tom Wolf Honors Tree of Life Victims During Visit to Holocaust Sites

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Gov. Tom Wolf lays a wreath at the Paneriai Memorial Museum
Gov. Tom Wolf lays a wreath at the Paneriai Memorial Museum in Lithuania during a recent visit. (Photo courtesy of The Office of Gov. Tom Wolf)

By Adam Reinherz

Gov. Tom Wolf visited Auschwitz-Birkenau last week, and while there he honored the 11 Jews who were killed in the mass shooting at the Pittsburgh Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha building on Oct. 27, 2018.

During his several hour tour of the Nazi camp in Poland, Wolf placed a wreath at the Death Wall and inscribed a message in the museum’s guestbook.

“Pennsylvania mourns for the people who were murdered on October 27, 2018, in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We mourn for these victims, and we mourn for their families,” wrote Wolf.

The governor also wrote each of the 11 victims’ names along with, “We will remember them” and “100% tolerance; 0% hate.”

“It was a chance to see Auschwitz and a chance to remember the 11 who were murdered in Pittsburgh,” Wolf told a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter.

Seeing the preserved horrors of the Holocaust was a reminder of humankind’s capacity for evil, continued Wolf.

“I think you have to see this to begin to understand that this kind of incredible evil happened in our world,” he said. “How could one group of people do this to another group of people?”

As he toured the camp and saw a gas chamber, crematorium, execution wall and confiscated suitcases, Wolf carried a mezuzah cover given to him by Rabbi Hazzan Jeffrey Myers of Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha. The decorated Judaica, which formerly hung on Myers’ door, broke when SWAT members entered the building during last October’s attack, according to the Post-Gazette.

Wolf’s trip abroad also included a stop at the Paneriai Memorial Museum in Lithuania, which honors the nearly 100,000 people, including 70,000 Jews, who were murdered during World War II.

At the memorial, Wolf laid a wreath sent by the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, and inscribed the names of the 11 Tree of Life victims in the memorial’s guestbook.

“The memorial sits within a quiet, peaceful forest but the large stone pits where people were killed and bodies were burned are haunting reminders of the horrors that took place,” Wolf said in a statement. “While traveling in Lithuania, we saw neighborhoods that had been designated Jewish ghettos during World War II. While these neighborhoods are rebuilt and modern, the history of the Holocaust is not lost. It reminds you that hate can exist anywhere, and we must remain vigilant in eradicating it, always.”

Wolf also spent his time in Europe speaking with business and political leaders and meeting with Pennsylvania National Guard troops.

“Last week I made a long overdue trip to visit our nearly 600 (Pennsylvania National Guard) troops overseas in Lithuania and Poland,” Wolf wrote on Twitter. “Birthday parties, holiday meals, a first child being born — these troops are missing home to protect us. We owe them an enormous amount of gratitude.”

Adam Reinherz is a staff writer at the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, an Exponent-affiliated publication.

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