“Aharon Horn was 11 years old. He was from Poland. He was murdered … .”
The words of a volunteer participating in a reading of names of those who perished in the Holocaust echoed through the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia’s library and from a loudspeaker in the hallway as attendees gathered in silence to remember the 6 million Jews murdered by the Nazis and their allies.
The Jewish Community Relations Council’s annual Holocaust Remembrance Day commemoration on Sunday at the JCCNV drew participants from many backgrounds to see displays, hear speakers and offer prayers.
“Our goal is that individuals can touch this on a spiritual and emotional level – Jewish or not Jewish,” said Debra Linick, JCRC’s director for Washington and Northern Virginia.
Earlier in the day, a JCRC-sponsored Maryland Communitywide Celebration took place at B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville. It featured a memorial tribute to survivor Herman Taube and a keynote address by survivor Nesse Godin.
In Northern Virginia, attendees included students from the A.G. Wright Middle School in Stafford. History teacher Bob Long has worked with the JCRC to prepare a class on the Holocaust and genocides. Students write essays on genocides and pamphlets containing the stories of survivors of those genocides.
Two tri-fold posters in the center’s lobby displayed the class’ work. One depicted stories of survivors of the genocides in Cambodia, Bosnia, Rwanda and other places. The other detailed stories of Holocaust survivors.
Long said that each student chooses a topic to research related to the Holocaust or another genocide, and the class culminates with a field trip to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Long’s lone Jewish student this year, David Cohen, attended the JCRC event with Long and a few of his fellow students.
“This will be an experience I will never forget,” said Cohen.
“When we do the unit, it’s primarily to get them out of themselves and into the world,” Long said, adding that many middle school students need opportunities to broaden their minds and look at the world as a whole.
Also displayed in the JCC’s lobby was artwork by local students that recreated headlines in Jewish and Palestinian newspapers from the 1930s and ’40s, and a display telling the story of several New Zealand soldiers during World War II who opted to stay in Palestine after fulfilling their military service.
The Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs set up a table to show their Shoah Yellow Candle project, whose goal is to distribute yellow yahrzeit candles to light in memory of those who died in the Holocaust.
“This year,” said Linick, the event’s focus “was really about the media and public opinion of the Holocaust.”
She said the JCRC has a different focus each year, and that the media coverage they wanted to spotlight showed that there was not enough effort to show the world what was really going on. Next year’s commemoration will focus on the psychology of scapegoating, said Linick.
State Del. Marcus Simon (D-District 53) was one of 18 elected officials in attendance. A lifetime member of Temple Rodef Shalom, Simon said he jumps at “any opportunity to see what’s going on in the Virginia Jewish community.”
Following the recitation of victims’ names, attendees gathered in the JCC’s auditorium for a candle lighting ceremony, a moment of silence, a poetry reading and prayer.
A dozen Holocaust survivors participated in the first of three parts of the candlelighting ceremony, lighting the first four of six candles representing the Six Million.
Retired U.S. Army Lt. Col. Frank Cohn, who lit the second candle, said he has a mission “as both a survivor and a liberator to stay healthy a while longer to be able to bear witness against those who deny or belittle the existence of the Holocaust.” Cohn grew up in Germany and served in the U.S. Army during World War II.
The fifth candle was lit by “The Next Generation,” a group of children of Holocaust survivors who recited “The Pledge of Acceptance,” which includes the promises: “We pledge to commemorate. We pledge to educate. We pledge to forever remember.”
As representatives lit the fifth candle, survivors’ children in the audience were invited to stand and join in the recitation.
The sixth candle was lit by a group of students who represented grandchildren of survivors. They then recited “The Pledge of Continuation,” which ended with, “We pledge to accept survivors’ memories and to pass them on to future generations.”
Cantor Elisheva Dienstfrey of Agudas Achim Congregation recited the El Maleh Rachamim prayer, followed by a group reading of the mourner’s Kaddish and a performance of Oseh Shalom by a community choir drawn from local congregations of various religions.
“Holocaust education remains a very important part of what we do,” Linick said.
“[Holocaust] survivors want to make sure their message is getting out beyond the Jewish community.”