As he prepared to light a candle in memory of the world’s victims of genocide, Mayor Cory Booker looked out at the audience of high school students and Holocaust survivors at his city’s Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart.
Then he opened Newark’s annual Yom Hashoa service April 12 with a call for “renewing and strengthening our city’s commitment to never forgetting the lessons of the past and striving to make those lessons a reality in the future.”
During six years of bitter history, from 1939 to 1935, “Adolf Hitler waged two wars,” said Booker. “One was against Allied forces on two continents; the other was against the Roma, the Slavs, the mentally ill, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and, most poignantly and tragically, against the Jews,” said Booker.
Speaking directly to the several hundred teenagers in the sanctuary of the city’s largest Catholic church, Philip Kirschner, chair of the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education, urged the young people “to stand up to bigotry and discrimination and oppression.”
“Unfortunately, the current generation has seen too many examples in its own short lifetime,” said Kirschner, citing genocides in Rwanda, Darfur, Sudan, as well as “the scourge of terrorism and the hatred spilling out from Iran. Education is still the key to making sure this world goes on in a free and caring way,” he said.
“History repeats itself,” observed keynote speaker Emery Jacoby, a Holocaust survivor from Romania. “All you have to do is read about these horrible stories about Kosovo, Rwanda, Nigeria, and the Congo. Innocent people are slaughtered.” Also addressing the youngsters present, he said, “It is your generation’s responsibility to rebuke racism, anti-Semitism, and hatred.”
In emotional tones, Jacoby spoke of being captured by the Nazis in 1944 and forced on a death march, where “we were beaten mercilessly.”
Jacoby said he realized that “to survive this madness was virtually impossible.” So he escaped and hid for several months until he was captured and shipped to Dachau and his parents and sisters were marched off to Auschwitz.
“Conditions were intolerable. Nobody knew what to expect. The older ones were collapsing from hunger. They were on a long journey to nothingness.”
Although his parents were executed, his sisters stayed alive for the liberation of Auschwitz by Russian troops.
Today Jacoby lives in Manhattan, where he had a career as an architect.
But “when Mr. Jacoby was a teenager like you,” Rabbi Clifford Kulwin of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston pointed out to his young audience, “he wanted to be thinking about what you are thinking about — girlfriends, boyfriends, ballgames, getting good grades, and staying out of your parents’ hair. Fate didn’t work out that way.”
“The world can be a cruel place,” said the rabbi. “The world can be a hard place in which bad things happen. But the world can be a wonderful, loving, and warm place in which each of us can feel comfortable. That will happen only if each of us does our part.”
We should “speak up when we see wrongs,” Kulwin said, and not “keep silent when we see evil, and, most if all, we should care about one another.”
The ceremony was sponsored by the City of Newark, the cathedral, the Holocaust Council of MetroWest, and Temple B’nai Abraham.