The shootings at Virginia Tech created a fresh sense of tragedy during the city’s twentieth annual Holocaust memorial ceremony this week, with several speakers mentioning the professor who survived Nazi Germany and later died while trying to protect his students. A cold wind blew through Market Square as Larry Hayward offered a prayer at the beginning of the ceremony.
"Our hearts are smaller and tighter today because of the violence that happened on a college campus not far from here," said Hayward, who is pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church, referring to those who died this week in Blacksburg. "As we remember the 33, let us also remember the six million."
A proclamation passed by the City Council last week described the Holocaust as "the state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by Nazi Germany and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945." Council members unanimously approved the resolution, which designated April 15 to April 22 as Days of Remembrance for the victims of the Holocaust with a civic ceremony to be held in Market Square at noon on April 18.
"The Holocaust is a story of destruction and loss in an apathetic world," said Mayor Bill Euille. "But it’s also a remarkable story of the human spirit triumphing over tragedy."
Charlene Schiff, who donated a memorial candelabrum to the city for use during the annual ceremonies, recounted a story from her youth hiding from German Nazis. As a 12-year-old girl, she said, she was starving in the woods when she heard gunshots. The next day, while she was foraging for food, she came upon the bodies of two people. Nearby, she found a loaf of bread that was partially covered in blood. Desperate for food, she separated the bloody parts and took the rest.
"It would have been sacrilege to eat it there, I thought to myself," Schiff said. "I can still taste the bitter bread in my mouth."
Rachel Goldfarb, a senior at T.C. Williams High School, challenged the prevailing wisdom that people should "never forget" the Holocaust — an idiom that she said was becoming outdated as the horrific events of the 1930s and 1940s become increasingly shrouded in the past. Goldfarb said that she started learning about the Holocaust as a 7-year-old child when she read a book titled "The Devil’s Arithmetic" by Jane Yolan. Yet many young people, she said, know precious little about the "final solution" proposed by Adolph Hitler.
"As I see it, the issue is no longer one of never forgetting," said Goldfarb. "The issue is one of education. Once we have learned, we will never forget. And we will never allow such horrors to happen again."