Seventy years after the Nuremberg trials, the Washington-area Jewish community marked Yom Hashoah by remembering the tribunals that brought Nazi war criminals to justice.
At Holocaust Day of Remembrance events Sunday in Fairfax and Rockville, historian Peter Black of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum sought to dispel what he called “a few myths and misconceptions about the Nuremberg trials.”
The first myth, he said, is that the Allies were “lukewarm about prosecuting Nazis.”
In 1945 and 1946, more than 90 percent of Nazis charged with war crimes were sentenced to death, he noted.
A second misconception is that the Nuremberg trials “had judges who downplayed the Holocaust in both indictment and judgment,” Black said.
In reality, most judges accurately characterized Treblinka, Auschwitz and Dachau as “extermination camps,” said Black. Many Nazi Party officials were held for such charges as crimes against peace and humanity during the Nuremberg trials.
At the Jewish Community Center of Northern Virginia in Fairfax, Black was joined onstage by Irene Weiss, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor. Weiss was liberated from Auschwitz by Soviet troops in January 1945.
Teens staged mock trials and attended a workshop applying lessons from the Nuremberg trials to contemporary issues of injustice.
The evening culminated with a multigenerational candle lighting ceremony and a recitation of Kaddish in remembrance of Holocaust victims.
At B’nai Israel Congregation in Rockville, public officials took turns reading aloud names of Shoah victims. Readers included Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen, Councilmember Sidney Katz and Rep. John Sarbanes.
The Rockville program also included a session for teens, “Defying Authority / Pursuing Justice,” exploring what it takes to stand up and defy injustice. On display was the Montgomery College Foundation’s “Portraits of Life” exhibit, with photographs and personal stories of Holocaust survivors.
The annual event was sponsored at both locations by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
“Unfortunately, every year is a [Holocaust] anniversary,” said JCRC Executive Director Ron Halber.
“It was such a period of terror in Jewish history, so that there are so many anniversaries to remember,” he explained. “The positive thing is that it gives us opportunities to draw greater public attention to specific events.”
The goal of the event is education and commemoration, Halber continued. “We are trying to find new and creative ways of reaching out and making it relevant to young folks.
“I want to make sure — as we get further and further away from the Holocaust — that the participation increases rather than decreases,” he added.
Black said that learning the universal lessons of the Holocaust is important.
“It’s important to understand what happened to the Jewish victims, but also to the non-Jewish victims as well.”
“In that time and place, Jews were the priority enemy, but in another time and place, another people could be the priority,” Black said.