For those dutifully gathered in Faneuil Hall’s historic rotunda Sunday, honoring Holocaust victims, survivors, and their families was not a yearly chore, but a necessary, lifelong undertaking.
Hundreds at the annual Holocaust Remembrance Commemoration listened closely to survivor Eva Fleischmann Paddock detail her remarkably fortunate escape from extermination. The crowd praised a principal in Methuen, who has encouraged Holocaust education throughout her school. Students from Greater Boston received awards for reflection essays.
“May the memory of those who were murdered be a blessing,” said diplomat Yehuda Yaakov, repeating a common mantra of Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust remembrance holiday which originated in Israel in 1953.
Rabbi Eric Gurvis of Temple Shalom stressed that any remembrance commemoration cannot be “just be a day that passes.”
“The candles that must truly be lit are the ones that are in our hearts and beings,” Gurvis said.
Approximately 6 million Jews died in the infamous genocide, which was perpetrated in the 1930s and 1940s by Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
The commemoration was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Boston and other Boston area Jewish organizations. This year’s theme was “From Holocaust to New Life: How Will We Remember?” Yaakov, the Israeli consul general to New England, decried the rising tide of anti-Semitism across the world where, he said, “Jews are being murdered for being Jews.”
Helmut Landes, the German deputy consul general to New England, represented his country at the commemorative service.
“Your pain and suffering is a tragedy that will never be forgotten,” Landes said. “Germany is committed to educating future generations so this never happens again, to ensure the suffering was not in vain.”
Paddock, the survivor, served as the commemoration’s keynote speaker. She and her sister, Milena, were two of 669 children who were shuffled from terror in Czechoslovakia to safety in England through the secret generosity of Great Britain’s Sir Nicholas Winton and his “Kindertransport.”
“It is not enough in your life to do no wrong,” Paddock said. “We must try to do good each and every day.”
Winton, a revered humanitarian who is sometimes likened to Germany’s Oskar Schindler, died last year at age 106, almost three decades after his humanitarian efforts were publicly uncovered. According to Paddock, Winton single-handedly set up a covert transportation system which packed trains with young, mostly Jewish Czechoslovakian children and whisked them through the Netherlands to Britain.
Stated plainly, Paddock says she owes her life to Winton’s rescue efforts. “We were two of the lucky ones,” she said, referring to herself and her sister. Other children saved by Winton’s Kindertransport have become doctors, lawyers, and European politicians.
Paddock, a Cambridge resident, ended her speech by encouraging the audience to keep Winton’s legacy of activism alive. “Each of us is capable of action when action is needed,” Paddock said.
Paddock and others praised the armed liberators who defeated Germany in World War II and eventually brought the massacre to an end in May 1945. After the commemorative service, some walked to the New England Holocaust Memorial on Union Street to continue reflecting and say a prayer for the deceased.
Phuong Nguyen, an 11th-grader from Malden High School, won first place in the event’s essay competition, which is named for Holocaust survivor Israel Arbeiter. All contest winners will go to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington later this year, and some, including Nguyen, will receive educational scholarships.
“No one can claim to understand the sufferings of the Holocaust victims, but we can remember and honor the Holocaust by creating a future that is more kind,” Nguyen wrote in her winning essay. “We are mediums to the experiences of the past, and we are the instruments essential to painting a beautiful future.”
Mary Beth Donovan, the principal of Tenney Grammar School in Methuen, received the inaugural Leadership in Holocaust Education Award from the Greater Boston Yom HaShoah Commemoration Committee.
Donovan received the award after she challenged pint-sized Holocaust deniers in her classroom, and made Holocaust education a pillar of her curriculum. Now, each year, the Tenney school sends scores of applicants to the Israel Arbeiter writing competition.
Holocaust education “nudges our kids to do the right thing,” Donovan said, and “to be an upstander, not a bystander.” In the audience, dozens of Methuen schoolchildren smiled at their award-winning teacher.
Astead W. Herndon can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.