SA Jewish community lights candles in memory of Holocaust victims
South Africa’s Jewish community joined the rest of the world yesterday in remembering the 6 million European Jews who were killed during the Holocaust.
Held virtually by the South African Board of Deputies because of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Day) commemorations dispensed with a single keynote speaker in favour of testimonies from six survivors who each lit a candle of remembrance at the end.
“The duty of all us survivors,” said Marian Turski, the international vice-chairman of the Auschwitz Committee, “is to warn the next generation to prevent a repetition of Nazism, racism and fascism.”
The current seduction of people across the world by populist movements and politicians like former US President Donald Trump, was the greatest risk of this resurgence, “the last experience with the (storming of) the Capitol in Washington is proof that this could happen anywhere”.
Miriam Lichterman, who lives in Cape Town, remembered how she and her sister had been the only ones of a large family to survive the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising, as well as the death camps.
Nazism, she said, had been a unique evil, the only system up until then that had actively hunted down Jewish children and murdered them with their parents.
She lit her candle in memory of the 1.5 million children who were murdered in the Holocaust.
Helene Sieff, who was 18 months old when the war came to Belgium, spoke of how she had been saved by the kindness of Gentiles during the war, being passed from house to house and even succoured by nuns.
“What mattered to all of them was not our religion, race or ethnicity, but that we were fellow human beings.”
She lit her candle in memory of all the righteous among the nations, non-Jews who had helped Jews at great risk to themselves.
Oscar Langsam spoke for the first time at the commemorative ceremony. He was one of the 1 584 refugees fleeing Nazi Germany when the British stopped him entering Palestine. His 3-year-old brother died in a British holding camp in Palestine, before he and his mother were sent on a 17-day voyage to Mauritius aboard a crowded ship, in which more people died. Eventually 128 refugees would die in Mauritius before those who remained were released at the end of the war.
He lit his candle in memory of those interned on Mauritius.
Capetonian Ella Blumenthal survived the Warsaw Ghetto and three death camps. She and her niece were the only members of their family of 22 who survived. Today a mother of four, grandmother of 11 and great grandmother of 10, she said: “Had I not survived, they would not have been born. Let’s think of all the generations who would have been born had my family survived.”
Speaking of the 6 million Jews who were murdered, she said they were not statistics but individuals “who loved and were loved. With the murder of each one, a special light was extinguished. I light a candle in memory of them.”
Pinchas Gutter, the former Capetonian who is one of the first virtual Holocaust survivors after having his testimony made into a hologram, lit a candle in memory of his twin sister, murdered in Majdanek extermination camp.
“We were born together, but from that day (she and his mother were executed) I cannot remember her face. My last memory is seeing her run towards my mother with her beautiful blonde braids. I light my candle in memory of Sabina.”
Shaun Zagnoev, the national chairperson of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies, committed the community to remembering.
“We remember the past to ensure it is never repeated.”