Remembering the horrors of the Holocaust

The Herzlia Vocal Ensemble singing The Partisan Song at the Holocaust memorial.

Concentration camp survivors were among several hundred people who attended the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, on Tuesday April 18, at the Jewish cemetery in Pinelands.

Known as Yom Hashoah Vehagevura, in Hebrew, the day commemorates the six million Jews who were killed by the Nazis during World War II.

This year, it coincides with the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943.

“On April 14, 1943, a group of Jewish people, using homemade weapons and smuggled firearms, revolted against Nazi forces. The fighting lasted for over a month when the Jewish charges were overpowered,” said Adrienne Jacobson, chairwoman of the Gardens-based Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies (Cape SAJBD).

Thousands of Jews were killed during the uprising while others were sent to concentration camps.

The uprising signified the very essence of Jewish bravery and resistance, said Ms Jacobson.

The stories of the survivors echoed through generations, carrying the collective pain and trauma, she said, adding that the Cape SAJBD would continue to fight hate speech, anti-Semitism, prejudice, racism and Holocaust denialists.

“Our promise is that we stand up to hate and bigotry in society and our responsibility as a community to work together to build a future of dignity and tolerance where human rights and religious freedoms are respected,” she said.

Among the Holocaust survivors who lit torches for the victims at the monument was Ella Blumenthal, 101, from Sea Point, who survived the Majdanek, Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen camps and the Warsaw Ghetto.

“After all the suffering and tragedy that I went through, I know that I had to carry on, I know that the world is beautiful and we must never forget to be thankful and to believe that tomorrow will be a better day,” she said.

She had known, even in her “darkest days”, that she would survive and tell the world what had happened to her and all the Jewish people.

Henia Bryer, 97, from Gardens, who was born in Poland, survived four concentration camps: Majdanek, Plaszow and Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland and Bergen-Belsen in Germany.

“Commemorating the Holocaust is very important so that people don’t forget. It is so unfortunate today that there are still wars today where people are still killing each other for no reason. I also hope that a tragedy like this never happens again.”

First and second-generation survivors wrote the names of Holocaust victims on white pebbles, which they placed at memorials in the cemetery.

“When you put a name on a stone and place them on a memorial, it notes the connections of generations,” said Rabbi Pini Hecht, from the Marais Road Shul Synagogue in Sea Point. “Today we use that theme to remember those that perished in the Holocaust.”

The Herzalia Vocal Ensemble sang The Partisan Song, known in Hebrew as Zog nit Keynmol, and Herzlia head pupil Taya Allardice said the youth had an important role to play in making sure that the Holocaust was not forgotten

“The Holocaust memorial has the important role of not only looking back, but in looking forward in ensuring that the lessons of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”

Build One South Africa leader Mmusi Maimane said, “South Africa has a lot to learn about the history of oppression of any kind. The Jewish community in the country plays a significant part of our community, as a country that has gone through apartheid. This Holocaust memorial is a reminder that we must choose leaders who promote prosperity for all rather than another cycle of oppression.”

Holocaust survivor Ella Blumenthal lights a torch at the monument to the victims of the Holocaust with her son-in-law, Paul Kaplan, and third-generation survivor Zola Shuman.
Holocaust survivor Henia Bryer lighting a torch with help from her daughters-in-law, Denise Bryer, left, and Rebecca Bryer.
Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies chairwoman Adrienne Jacobson speaking at the Holocaust memorial.