Yeshiva University Yom HaShoah Ceremony Emphasizes Resilience in the Face of Evil
On Wednesday, the Student Holocaust Education Movement (SHEM) held its annual commemoration honoring Holocaust survivors and victims. This year’s theme, “We Live On,” celebrated the resilience of those who persevered through their suffering to bring forth future generations, including the students at the event themselves.
In her opening remarks, Tali Naor, president of SHEM, said, “All of us sitting here in this room are living proof that the Nazis were wrong. We, the Jewish people, cannot be destroyed. Tonight, we will honor those who perished, those who survived, and those who dedicated their lives to telling their stories and ensuring that the memories of the Holocaust are never forgotten.”
After a stirring rendition of the American and Israeli national anthems by the Y-Studs, twin brothers Bernard and Henry Schanzer told a thrilling and poignant story of how they and their family survived through the kindness of “righteous gentiles” in France who hid and protected them. Just as they have told their story to their own children and grandchildren, “with your permission,” said Henry, “we want to adopt you tonight as our children and grandchildren and tell you our story.”
On August 26, 1942, when they were seven, their father, Bruno, was caught in a round-up of Jews and eventually sent to an extermination camp, where he died along with his brother, two brothers-in-law and a sister-in-law. Their mother managed to get the brothers along with their sister, Anna, and several cousins into the protection of four gentiles who sheltered them in the French countryside until the end of the war. In 1946, the family managed to make it to the United States, and Anna and her family later made aliyah. This epic journey from their birthplace in Belgium to the State of Israel showed, Henry said, that “the spirit lives and our family have risen from the ashes.” Bernard added that to honor the courage of the gentiles who took care of them, “we must emulate the righteous of the nations and have the courage to stand up to evil. Never again.”
Rabbi Dr. Jacob J. Schacter, University Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought and Senior Scholar at the Center for the Jewish Future, spoke about his father, Rabbi Herschel Schacter, who was a chaplain with General George Patton’s Third Army when they liberated Buchenwald on April 11, 1945, 73 years to the date of the evening’s event. Rabbi Schacter essentially was absent without leave as he moved into the camp and lived there for 10 weeks with the survivors, catering to their needs and repairing whatever he could repair. “The foundational narrative of my childhood,” Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter said, was this transformative experience of his father, and as a “child of a liberator,” he has learned that “we were not spared to forget or to let others forget. We will remember the death of those whose voices cannot be heard.”
Six candles were lit on stage to commemorate six different aspects of Holocaust remembrance: the six million murdered; the one-and-a-half million children slaughtered; the righteous gentiles and non-Jewish victims; the world of Torah that was lost; the link between survivors and the future generations; and to honor the survivors and their inspiring example.
The program concluded with a moving delivery of Kel Malei [“God Full of Mercy”] by YU President Rabbi Dr. Ari Berman.
Naor felt very pleased by the positive feedback from the event. “The most important aspect of a Yom HaShoah commemoration event is continuing to remember and honor the tragedy of the Holocaust,” she noted. “Like Rav Schacter said, the fact that so many students came, despite that fact that the Shoah was so many years ago shows that the Nazis were wrong. We cannot be destroyed, and we will never forget what happened.”
She added, “Hearing the students speak about how they’ve been influenced by their relatives, survivors of the Holocaust, also proves that point. It is instilled in each and every one of us to honor our people, and ensure that, indeed, ‘We Live On.’ ”