Inside/Outside with Allen YoungHolocaust Remembrance

  • State Rep. Susannah Whipps of Athol, who represents all nine of the North Quabbin towns, participated in a recent program marking Holocaust Remembrance Day at the State House in Boston. Submitted Photo

Friday, February 09, 2018

The recent Holocaust Remembrance Day was observed with an event at the State House on Boston’s Beacon Hill, and I was pleased to learn that our elected representative, Susannah Whipps, was a proud participant.

It was also a meaningful day for me, as I had only recently learned some details about what happened to some of my ancestors during that horrific time known as World War II.

Accompanying her photo on Facebook, Rep. Whipps offered this comment: “I was very happy to participate in the #WeRemember event at the State House. Now more than ever it’s important that non-Jews stand up against anti-Semitism, straight individuals must stand up for our LGBTQ friends and people who have never faced racism stand up for people of color. I’m fortunate, and I have a voice. It would be a shame not to use it.”

She represents voters in all of the North Quabbin Region towns, and one of them, Myron Becker of Wendell, wrote this response: “Thanks, Susannah Whipps. It will be forever necessary and important to remind people. The political atmosphere feels dangerous to us Jews these days.”

Rabbi Robert Sternberg of Athol’s Temple Israel, also citing current events, wrote in an email: “The Holocaust empowers and compels everyone to take an active stand against any form of hatred and, when necessary, protest against attacks on people because of their religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability challenges, socioeconomic class or anything else that makes them a target of bigotry. We are especially called upon today, in the aftermath of the recent public march of a group of hatemongers in Charlottesville, Va., to not be silent or turn a blind eye to the indignities suffered by anyone. The American writer John dos Passos said, ‘Our only hope will lie in the frail web of understanding of one human being for the pain of another.’”

I learned the following from an internet web site: “The day of Holocaust memory was proposed at the United Nations by Israel in 2005. In addition to encouraging education about the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust, the authors of Resolution 60/7 sought to push back against denial of the genocide. January 27 was chosen because on that date in 1945, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, where one million Jews from all over Europe were murdered during World War II.”

The Red Army (soldiers from the Soviet Union) included officers who wrote important historical accounts of what they learned, and one of those documents tells about the little city called Belz (also known as Bălţi) where my mother was born in 1911. It is located in Bessarabia, a district in what is now Moldova. Many Jews, including my grandparents and some of their siblings left Belz long before the war, but several of my family members had remained there. They all died in 1941 at the hands of Nazi invaders who didn’t bother rounding them up for concentration camps.

A document recently found by my mother’s first cousin, Debra Pasik, included this report: “On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. The Romanian army joined in the conquering of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. During the invasion, Bălţi suffered a series of heavy bombardments that caused two-thirds of the tiled-roofed houses to be burned to the ground. Many Jews were killed in the bombings, and others fled en masse from the town toward the surrounding villages, leaving behind the bedbound sick and elderly. The refugees took with them a few possessions, but they were robbed by local farmers and Romanian and German soldiers. These thefts were accompanied by rape and murder. In the villages where they sought shelter, thousands of Jews were killed ... Bălţi) was consumed by fire.”

Dr. Myron Maron and his wife, Suri Cybuch-Maron, of Petersham, are both children of Holocaust survivors. Suri told me the complex and traumatic story of her parents’ ordeal, including this: “My parents were both in Auschwitz. They went to Sweden as refugees after the war, in the second half of 1945. Even though they had wanted to come to the United States right after the war, they were not permitted to do so. It’s important to note that despite having relatives here and despite what they had gone through, the U.S. government did not permit them to enter for seven years.”

She added, “I don’t remember a time when I was not aware that my parents had had this horrible experience, and that in particular on my father’s side, there were all these relatives who had been murdered. When I was only 5 years old, coming in to say good night during a dinner party, I saw the adults all had concentration camp numbers tattooed on their forearms.”

As a social worker, Suri attended conferences where professionals focused on the psychological health of survivors, and the impact on their children as well. For some it was like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), “as though they had been there,” she said.

I have attended Holocaust Remembrance Day services at Temple Israel in Athol, and was pleased to see some non-Jewish area residents in attendance. Rabbi Sternberg said that in more recent years, the Holocaust has been referenced during Yom Kippur services in the fall.

The rabbi, a resident of Springfield, is an acknowledged Holocaust scholar, teaching Holocaust history at American International College in Springfield and Holocaust literature at Westfield State University. He created and led a substantial Holocaust center in St. Louis, Mo. In an email, he explained he has taught “upwards of one thousand high school and middle school teachers on how to teach the Holocaust. I also co-authored a curriculum in 1999 on the Holocaust with a Roman Catholic friend and colleague, Prof. David Oughton of St. Louis University especially for Roman Catholic and other Christian schools entitled ‘Jewish/Christian Relations in Light of the Holocaust.’ Recently I created a resource kit for the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst on Holocaust poetry that will soon be uploaded onto their website as soon as all permissions are secured.”

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