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Remembering the Holocaust

City’s annual Yom Hashoah ceremony commemorates Nazi atrocities.

From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany engaged in a bloodbath. With their collaborators, the Nazis engaged in a systemic prosecution of European Jewry. Six million Jews were murdered, and many others were targeted: Poles, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners, homosexuals, dissenters and the handicapped — among others.

The memories from this dark chapter in world history are painful to remember. Yet for 19 years, the city of Alexandria has participated in Yom Hashoah — the National Day of Remembrance. The commemoration dates to 1950, when the 27th of Nissan on the Jewish calendar was chosen because it falls beyond Passover but within the time span of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Alexandria’s commemoration began in 1987, when then-mayor Jim Moran began the annual event.

“It’s Santayana’s admonition that if you don’t learn from the past, you end up repeating it,” said U.S, Rep. Moran (D-8). “The purpose the memorial is not just to remember the horrible suffering of the Jews in Europe, but to gain further resolve to fight evil and violence and mass destruction wherever it occurs.”

For many Jews, the event is intensely personal.

“This commemoration is very important,” said Charlene Schiff, a Holocaust survivor who lives in Alexandria. “Unfortunately, we still have hate, genocide, racism and bigotry.”

During the commemoration, Mayor Bill Euille and other City Council members will light a candelabrum that Schiff and her husband Ed donated to the city. The 54-inch brass candelabrum was presented to the city in memory of Schiff’s parents, sister and millions of others who perished in the Holocaust.

“We must commit ourselves never to forget,” said Councilman Ludwig Gaines, who recently presented a proclamation to City Council honoring Yom Hashoah.

After reading the text of the resolution, Gaines took a moment to reflect on a recent trip to the Middle East. Last summer, Gaines visited Israel’s Holocaust museum. He said that the trip was transformative.

“It was, to say the least, a very moving experience,” Gaines said. “It really changed my worldview.”

The ceremony will take place on April 25 at noon in Market Square. The guest speaker will be Ruth Messinger, president and executive director of the American Jewish World Service.

“We must take action when we see atrocities going on,” said Sharon Steinberg, cantor at Beth El Hebrew Congregation. “Maybe it’s because of the Holocaust that the world is finally uniting to do something about Sudan.”