For the 69th year, hundreds of Holocaust survivors will come together Sunday, April 27, in what traditionally has been the largest gathering of survivors in the Midwest -- the Annual Holocaust Memorial Service.
Organized by Sheérit HaPleitah of Metropolitan Chicago, the umbrella organization for area Holocaust survivor groups, the collective memorial observance will begin at 1:30 p.m. at Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob Synagogue, 8825 East Prairie Road, Skokie. The event is co-sponsored by the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
“This annual memorial honors the memory of our 6 million martyrs, including 1½ million innocent children who perished only because they were Jews,” said Charles Lipshitz, president of Sheérit HaPleitah of Metropolitan Chicago. “We also will observe the 69th anniversary of the liberation from the concentration camps, and honor the contributions that Holocaust survivors have made to society.
“We cannot let the world forget that a modern society, Nazi Germany, was capable of committing such atrocities,” Lipshitz said. “Many reactionary forces are hard at work to change history and deny that the Holocaust ever happened. We must be vigilant not to allow this to occur.”
“The number of Holocaust survivors is dwindling to a precious few as we approach the 69thanniversary of the end of World War II,” said Larry Schwartz, president of the Association of Descendants of the Shoah - Illinois, Inc. “We, as children of survivors, are taking an active role in reminding the world that the crimes of Nazi Germany can happen again if we do not maintain vigilance. The legacy of the Holocaust survivors will be sustained and enhanced through our education and outreach efforts, for we shall never forget the sacrifices of the Six Million Jews who did not live to see the Nazi war machine defeated.”
“We will not remain silent in the face of Iranian, Arab, or any other entity’s wish to destroy Israel,” said I. M. Hubscher, co-chairman of the community commemoration. “This circle of violence must stop, and we, as children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of survivors will continue to lead the effort to eradicate hate, death and destruction.”
At the 2014 memorial service, Regine Schlesinger, veteran anchor/reporter for WBBM Newsradio 780 and the daughter of Holocaust survivors who were on Schindler’s List, will be one of the featured speakers. Others will include Steve Katz, a survivor, who will give testimony to the tragedy that befell him and millions of innocent victims due to the religion they practiced; the Honorable Roey Gilad, Consul General of Israel to the Midwest; Mayor George Van Dusen of Skokie; and David T. Brown, Board Chair of the Jewish United Fund/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.
A high point of the service is the candle-lighting ceremony honoring the six million Jews who perished. The ceremony will be conducted by Sherry Rubinstein Warso of Dor L’Dor, the Young Leadership Division of Sheérit HaPleitah, with participation by children and grandchildren of local-area Holocaust survivors.
Winners of the first Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Memorial Day) essay contest will be announced by David Levine, the new chairman of the memorial service. Officials of the Jewish War Veterans-Skokie Post 328 and Jewish Boy Scout Troops #69 and #243 will present colors. Proclamations by Gov. Pat Quinn and Mayor Rahm Emanuel of Chicago and Mayor George Van Dusen of Skokie will be published in the ad journal.
The village of Skokie is supportive of Sheérit HaPleitah's efforts to sustain the memory of the Holocaust. When the American Nazi Party chose Skokie in 1978 for its infamous demonstration, Sheérit HaPleitah helped lead the opposition, with the assistance of former Mayor Albert J. Smith and the village trustees. The struggle was portrayed in a made-for-television movie starring Danny Kaye.
A documentary by Todd Whitman about the days leading up to the infamous 1978 demonstration aired on PBS in January 2013. The film featured many Jewish survivors of the Holocaust, as well as activists from the next generation who stood ready to protect the survivor community.
Sheérit HaPleitah later led the movement to construct a monument in memory of the Holocaust victims on the Skokie Village Green, on land donated by the village and from funds collected from area individuals and synagogues and the Jewish United Fund.
The sculpture by Edward Chesney, depicting three generations, torn prayer books, a menorah, and other items symbolizing the destruction of European Jewry, was unveiled on May 31, 1987. That night, the memorial received worldwide attention after it was desecrated with spray paint, including the epithet "Jew liars" and other messages of hate.
"This insidious act made the message on the dedication plaque even more meaningful," said Lipshitz. It reads, “This monument will remain in perpetuity as a reminder of what hate can do to mankind if decent people are not vigilant to forestall such a calamity in the future.”
Sheérit HaPleitah includes the following groups: Association of Descendents of the Shoah - Illinois, Inc.; Hofesh Chapter-Na’amat USA; the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center; Jewish Lithuanian Club of Chicago; Laor Organization; Midwest Chestochover Society; New Citizens Club; Workman's Circle; The United Chicago Jews of Hungarian Descent, Inc.; Association of Child Survivors; Dr. Janusz Korczak B'nai Brith Lodge; and Dor L’Dor, a group of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors who will play an important role in carrying on our legacy.