Dwindling numbers, but the memories remain strong
Two decades ago, they numbered in the hundreds. On Sunday, there were just a few dozen.
But when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa asked them to stand and be recognized, the Holocaust survivors in attendance for the annual Holocaust Remembrance Day at Pan Pacific Park in Los Angeles were met with a standing ovation.
“We ask you to stand up because of your courage, your perseverance and your memories,” Villaraigosa said. “We honor you today because those memories of yours will make sure that this will never, ever happen again.”
He and other speakers exhorted a crowd of several thousand to never forget that history or the fact that the Jewish people and Israel remain under threat 65 years after the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps.
“There are many lessons to be drawn . . . from the murder of 6 million Jews,” said Rabbi Isaac Jeret. He said he had recently read letters and postcards written by European Jews in late 1930s and early 1940s. “They all have one thing in common. Every single one of those letters and postcards was a cry for help.”
Today, he cautioned, “there’s a cold wind blowing in the world . . . that seeks to destroy the Jewish state.”
Jacob Dayan, Israel’s consul general in Los Angeles, said those threats include what he called a growing number of Holocaust deniers and the nuclear ambitions of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
“We cannot take our existence for granted . . . Israel is the eternal insurance policy of the Jewish people,” Dayan said.
Those who survived the Holocaust are the embodiment of the long struggle to establish a Jewish homeland, he said.
“You triumphed against all odds,” Dayan said. “You won. And because you prevailed, we prevailed.”
Behind him in the park, fencing surrounded a work in progress intended to ensure that story is kept alive.
The new home of the Los Angeles Museum of the Holocaust, under construction next to the six black granite columns of the Holocaust memorial, is expected to open this summer. Its 10,000 square feet of exhibition space will lean heavily on artifacts and stories left behind by a generation that is quickly disappearing.
“More are dying every year,” said Jona Goldrich, 82, chairman of the Los Angeles Holocaust Monument and a survivor himself. “Another 10, 15 years from now and there won’t be any left. That’s why we have to teach our children about history.”
Max Webb’s history could fill volumes. He is 93 and survived 18 forced-labor and concentration camps over five years.
“I believe in miracles,” he said. “There is no other explanation.”
His stories spill forth from memory without coaxing -- murdered children, families torn apart, a litany of unimaginable cruelty.
“What else do you want to know?” he asked.
Then he rolled up his white shirt sleeve to show his tattoo: 145243.
“That’s my number,” Webb said matter-of-factly.
The mark of something awful. An eyewitness account that is irreplaceable.