Memorial ceremony held on eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day

In remembrance: Wreaths surround the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day. TOM WARING / TIMES PHOTO

Music, prayer and poetry highlighted Philadelphia’s annual memorial ceremony on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

About 600 people gathered on Sunday afternoon at 16th Street and the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, site of the Monument to the Six Million Jewish Martyrs, created in 1964 as the first public monument in North America to the victims of the Holocaust.

The theme this year was I Don’t Live in the Past But the Past Lives On in Me.

Rabbi David Straus called for a moment of silence at the start of the ceremony.

The day featured a military color guard, a presentation of wreaths by representatives of local Jewish organizations and greetings in English and Yiddish.

Local Jewish leaders, child Holocaust survivor Suzanne Gross and the descendants of Holocaust survivors led a candle-lighting ceremony.

The musical selections included Ani Ma’Amin, the 13 articles of Jewish faith, which begins with the words “I believe” and was sung by many Jews as they entered the gas chambers.

Speakers noted the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when 700 outnumbered and outgunned Jews spent four weeks resisting attacks from 2,000 Nazis in German-occupied Poland during World War II.

“Their heroism will be remembered,” said Miriam Caine, of the Association of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, in a speech delivered in Yiddish. “We hope that all of us and, most of all, our children and grandchildren will know and remember that the Jews fought back and did not go like cattle to the slaughter.

“Today, with the anti-Semitism raging throughout the world, we Jews and even more so, the survivors, have to speak — no, not speak, but shout — the truth of what happened seventy years ago and let the world know that Jews are not afraid to stand up for what is right and just.”

Elected officials on hand included state Sen. Anthony Williams, state Reps. Brendan Boyle, John Sabatina Jr. and Mark Cohen and City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson.

Williams and Boyle were the keynote speakers. They have introduced legislation requiring instruction on the Holocaust, genocide and human rights violations in schools.

Organizers circulated postcards for guests to indicate their support for the legislation.

Boyle told the crowd that he was recently in Israel for “eight amazing days.” He said the ceremony should be about remembering the past and shaping the future, adding that he is hopeful that the legislation will soon pass out of committee. Five other states have adopted similar legislation.

Williams asked the crowd to repeat after him the phrases, “Never again,” and, “It should not have happened then and it will not happen now.” ••

Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215–354–3034 or twaring@bsmphilly.com