In sharp contrast to the spring-like weather and bright skies this past Sunday, a standing-room-only crowd filled Howard County’s Oakland Mills Interfaith Center to commemorate what most believe is the darkest period in modern history. This year’s Yom Hashoah commemoration was dedicated to the 1.5 million children who perished in the Holocaust, said Rabbi Seth L. Bernstein of Columbia’s Bet Aviv Congregation, who chaired this year’s event.
It was Bernstein’s idea to build the commemorative service around a performance of “Cantata: Childhood Memories,” written by Cantor Stephen Freedman and adapted, produced and directed by Toby Orenstein of Toby’s Dinner Theatre, Cantor Jan Morrison of Columbia Jewish Congregation and Stephanie Gurwitz Zurier. The rabbi first heard the cantata in 1990, when it was performed in Worcester, Mass.
“People still talked about it 15 years later,” said Bernstein, who explained that the cantata was a means of honoring Holocaust child victims, while it also exposed the young people of Howard County’s Jewish community to the horrific events that fellow Jews underwent. The afternoon program also included prayers, performances by the cantors of Howard County’s Jewish Community and a Yom Hashoah candle-lighting service.
Amy Steinhorn, 13, and her sister Julie, 14, were among the 24 young vocalists who performed along with actors Robert Biederman, Susan Porter and Lilly Ulman. Amy, Julie, their 18-year-old sister, Alyssa, and their cousin, Rachel Steinhorn Raful, accompanied their 85-year-old grandmother, Harriet Steinhorn-Roth, who survived the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, as she lit candles during the commemorative service for those who perished in the Holocaust.
Amy Steinhorn said that being part of the children’s choir was especially meaningful to her because of her grandmother’s history.
“My grandmother and her mother and some of their cousins survived, but her two sisters and father didn’t make it,” she said. “I felt I was honoring them.”
The girls’ father, Mark Steinhorn of Highland, Md., was a member of the Howard County Yom Hashoah Holocaust Remembrance Committee.
“My mother was born in Lodz, Poland in 1929,” he said. “She was 10 years old when the war began.”
At that point, he said, the family was forced to move to Poland’s Skarzysko Ghetto. Three years later, Steinhorn-Roth was separated from her family and sent to a series of forced-labor concentration camps.
“[In Bergen-Belsen] she was 14 years old and very sick. The Nazis used to move all the sick to the infamous Barrack 9. [Because they were sick] they weren’t useful to the Germans, so every week Barrack 9 was emptied, and all of the inmates were taken out, shot and put in mass graves,” said Steinhorn.
Steinhorn-Roth, who now lives in Silver Spring, escaped death because of her sister, Lita, who managed to sneak out of the ghetto and came to the fence of the camp to give Steinhorn-Roth a pillow, a stack of photographs and a letter from their parents. A Jewish guard at the fence coveted the pillow so Steinhorn- Roth’s sister made a deal, said Steinhorn.
“She told him, ‘I’ll bring you a pillow if you promise to take care of my sister.’ A man and a woman came to Barrack 9, covered my mother with a blanket and brought her to the men’s barracks, where they nursed her back to health. When she was leaving the barrack, all the sick people were yelling to her, ‘Tell them what happened here!’ Watching my mother, 71 years later, lighting the candle surrounded by her granddaughters today, I was thinking back to all those sick people,” said Steinhorn.
Steinhorn said his mother had always felt compelled to tell her story, even writing a book of plays for children called “Shadows of the Holocaust” based upon her memories. Steinhorn-Roth also taught religious school at Shaare Tefila Congregation in Silver Spring.
As part of the commemoration, some individuals lent Holocaust-related artifacts for a lobby display. The Steinhorn family lent a photo of Pinchas Feldman, father of Harriet Steinhorn-Roth, grandfather of Mark Steinhorn and great-grandfather of Alyssa, Julie and Amy Steinhorn, that was taken in the Skarzysko Ghetto in 1940.
Maly Moses, 85, lent a jacket worn by a concentration camp victim that her late husband, Salomon Moses, who survived Mauthausen, brought with him after the camp was liberated when he was 22.
“He was 35 pounds when he was saved. They brought him out on a stretcher and put him in an Army hospital,” said Moses, a survivor of a labor camp in Siberia, where she and her family lived from 1939 to 1945. After the war, Moses’ family returned to Poland. She met her husband when he also returned to Poland, hoping to find someone from his family.
“One day I was going to school and a handsome man came toward me,” recalled Moses. “He wanted to know if the town had a Jewish community. I said, ‘Yes,’ I’ll take you there. He said, ‘You’re Jewish?’ I thought you were a shiksa!’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I’m Jewish.’
“So I brought him to my house, and we gave him chicken soup and all kinds of Jewish food and he fell in love — not with me but with my mother and father. I believe in beshert. If I hadn’t been on that street corner and he hadn’t walked by, we would never have met.”
Turning to the event, Moses exclaimed, “The kids should know about this. We’re dying!”
Yom Hashoah was also commemorated in Baltimore at the Baltimore Jewish Council’s annual program held at Beth Tfiloh Congregation in its Dahan Sanctuary. Approximately 550 people turned out for the Sunday event, which included a tribute to Leo Bretholz, who passed away on March 8. Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) presented Bretholz’s family with the final pen Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley used to sign railway legislation in 2011 that passed unanimously. The legislation requires all rail companies applying to work in Maryland to disclose any involvement with the Nazis during the Holocaust.
The program included a candle-lighting ceremony in memory of the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Candles were lit by Hermien Hamburger, Bertha Schwarz, Harold Weiss, Adam Block, Frania Block, Nancy Kutler and Tracy Paliath. Special recognition was given to the memory of Inge Weinberger, who passed away in August 2013.
The keynote address was presented by Menachem Rosensaft, founding chairman of the International Network of Children of Jewish Holocaust Survivors.
At the ceremony, the Ponczak-Greenblatt Families Holocaust Endowment Fund awarded three students with Israel bonds for their winning essays that answered the questions, “What are the most important lessons of the Holocaust?” and “Why must they be taught to every generation?” Carley Bynion of The John Carroll School won first place, second place went to Alisha Zaveri of Perry Hall High School and third place went to Mason Bernstein of the Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School.
“As more survivors are leaving us, it is essential that we, as a community, honor their memory and the memory of those that remain,” said Erika Schon, chair of the Holocaust Remembrance Commission.