Editor’s note: Cassie Gross, a senior at Yavneh Academy of Dallas, writes a first-person account of Tiferet Israel’s 70th anniversary of concentration-camp liberation Thursday.
By Cassie Gross
Following the crowds into Congregation Tiferet Israel, I was suddenly struck by the thought that almost every other person in sight was likely a Holocaust survivor or an American soldier who had helped liberate a concentration camp.
Over the course of the Yom HaShoah proceedings, as we commemorated victims of the Holocaust and honored the strength of the Greatest Generation, I noted the absence of my own generation, the children of the children of the survivors. As the lone 18-year-old, I basked in the knowledge that if ever there could be a more humiliating defeat for history’s most barbaric monsters, it would be this: Those whom they tried to so brutally crush, came out tonight to celebrate in a golden-lit room, singing songs of hope and happiness together as a community, as a family. I wish my peers could have been here to experience this with me.
Tonight (Thursday) was also the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the concentration camps, marked by the testimony of three Texan-Americans who were witnesses to the vicious inhumanity of the camps: Albert Binko, Melvin Waters and Sam Kogutt. Speakers testified to the bravery of these soldiers who put their lives on hold to join the American army. They helped free the starved and scarred survivors of the concentration camps. Only decades later could these soldiers speak of what they had seen.
Mary Pat Higgins, president and CEO of the Dallas Holocaust Museum, quoted survivor Victor Frankl on how though they were no longer captives, no longer being tortured or tortuously awaiting their own deaths, the survivors had not yet found true liberation. “Though they may have been free of fear of death, they were not free of fear of life,” Higgins said. “They could not grasp freedom.”
But as we know, not only did they eventually grasp freedom, they embraced it. They conquered their haunting memories as they emigrated to the Americas, Israel, various parts of Europe and the Middle East. There they built new lives for themselves, careers and families.
But they, and we, will never forget the millions who perished in the Holocaust. Tiferet Rabbi Shawn Zell expressed his belief that the murdered reside in heaven now, watching over the living, not at all bitter for their loss.
“We look up (at them) in sadness, but they look down with joy,” Zell said.
And when Eli Davidsohn’s deep but clear, rumbling voice cried out words of hope and defiance throughout the ceremony, in Yiddish, in Hebrew and then in English, it was as though all the lost loved ones of the Shoah were singing through him. Even in death, their spirits cannot be hushed.
In Partisan Song, the first melody of the evening, Davidsohn chanted, “This song was written with our blood and not with lead, it’s not a little tune that birds sing overhead. This song a people sang amid collapsing walls, with pistols in hand they heeded the call.”
The call being, as repeated at the end of each chorus, “We are here.”
Indeed, tonight, the survivors were here. But they won’t always be. When my parents, children of survivors, are ready to pass on the responsibility of “Never Forget,” will my generation be ready to receive it?
While high school seniors are currently in Poland on the March of the Living, there are many in younger grades that could have been here tonight to experience the humbling and awe-inspiring stories of the survivors and liberators. Yom HaShoah is a time not only to reflect on those who have perished, but to appreciate the courage and resilience, in the face of the most horrific adversity, of the survivors. This is a lesson for people of all ages.