Four Generations Commemorate the Memory of the Holocaust at Yeshiva University Yom HaShoah Ceremony

Four generations of Holocaust survivors and their descendants took the podium at Yeshiva University’s Yom Hashoah commemoration ceremony on Monday, April 8, at a packed Lamport Auditorium on the Wilf Campus. The theme of the ceremony, organized by YU’s Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM), was “The Lost Generations.”

The ceremony highlighted Jewry’s imperative to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive as the generation of Holocaust survivors passes and new generations arise. The program began with a haunting recitation of victims’ names, accompanied by a medley of mournful Jewish melodies, performed on the violin by Yeshiva College Professor Yair Shahak.

“The legacy [of the victims] must never become just another number,” said Jacob Bernstein ’15YC, president of SHEM. “We recall these individuals and who they were by recounting their personalities and lost potential… Each person is an entire world, and with the loss of 6 million Jews came the loss of 6 million worlds that we will never know.”

Holocaust survivor Aron Bell (formerly Bielski) recounted his story alongside his granddaughter Aliza Abrams, assistant director in YU’s Center for the Jewish Future Department of Service Learning and Experiential Education. Bell and his three older brothers led the largest Jewish partisan group of the Shoah. Under their protection, approximately 1,200 Jews survived the war in the Belarus forests. Their story was made famous by the 2008 film “Defiance.”

“The main credit [for saving so many lives] goes to my oldest brother Tuvia,” said Bell, who was 11 years old during the 1941 Nazi invasion. “He said, ‘Let come a child, let come a pregnant woman, let come an old man; whatever we have we’ll share with them.’”

Bell’s message to the audience was serious. “You do not know what tomorrow will bring, even in America,” he stressed, noting the importance of studying the Holocaust and how genocide can occur in even the most advanced countries.”

Representing second-generation survivors was Stern College for Women Professor Smadar Rosensweig, who spoke about the life and legacy of her mother, Dr. Yaffa Eliach. Eliach, a Holocaust survivor from the Eishyshok shtetl, dedicated her life to Holocaust research and education. She authored numerous books, founded the first Holocaust research center in the United States and pioneered the global effort to collect survivor interviews.

Unfortunately, Eliach’s health no longer permits her to continue her activism. “I am her commemoration, I am her song,” said Rosensweig. “My mother’s life was dedicated to keeping the voices of Holocaust survivors alive… Her genius was to recreate their life for us, their heroism, their unique inner world… to give a face, a name, a story, to every Jewish voice that survived.”

Talia Lautman ’13S, spoke about her relationship with her late Oma [grandmother] Breindel, who survived Auschwitz-Birkenau. Lautman, SHEM vice-president, recounted her grandmother’s faith and how she and several others risked their lives to hold a Passover seder in Birkenau, using raisins as wine and potato peelings as karpas. But the memory that stood out most for Lautman is when the elderly survivor stood at the Majdanek concentration camp, surrounded by descendants, and addressed her deceased parents in Slovak as though she were a young girl. “Mommy, Tatty, it’s me, it’s your baby Bryna,” said Lautman’s grandmother. “Look at me… look at all my kids. Look at the family I have… I love you so much.”

The program also featured a recitation of “El Maleh Rahamim” by YU President Richard M. Joel, a performance by the Y-Studs a cappella group, a stirring montage of Holocaust photographs and a yahrzeit candle-lighting ceremony led by Zevi Weisinger ’14SB, a great-grandson of a survivor.