“Six million Jews were murdered during [the Holocaust].” Dr. Karen Dace, IUPUI Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion said. “In addition, the Nazi’s killed another estimated five million people who they felt would corrupt their quest for a perfect Aryan race.”
“Today we come together to honor those millions who lost their lives in the senseless acts of terror brought about by Nazi Germany,”she said in her opening remarks at IUPUI’s Holocaust Remembrance Program.
The event was held on Tuesday, April 19, by the Jewish Student Association in the Campus Center theatre. It was a moving ceremony that recognized and honored the lives of not only those lost in the Holocaust but all those affected by it.
Leading the memorial candle lighting ceremony at the program was Indianapolis lawyer, Tibor Klopfer, and second generation survivor of the Holocaust. “We light these candles for the billions who died in the Shoah. We light a candle in memory of those who had a family member who died…the 1,600,000 children whose hopes dreams and lives were extinguished before they ever lived, the disabled, the homosexuals, the Sinti Roma [Gypsies] and so many more who were not deemed fit. We light these candles for future generations to remember who died in the Shoah.”
Alex Star, a 90-year-old survivor of Auschwitz, lit the first candle in honor of his father, mother, sisters, and brother. Dr. Boaz Karmayzyn lit a candle in memory of his father’s first wife and her two daughters whose names were lost along with many members of their family.
A family of three generations: Faina, Michael, and Anna Voskoboynik lit one in memory of Michael’s mother, father, and grandfather who Michael says, “fought against the Nazis and was killed…and for all our other family members.”
Siblings and second generation survivors, Maya Shomel and Joe Hirsch, lit a candle in honor of their family. On October 12, 1941, her father, who was 6 years old, and his parents were forced to leave Ukraine. Their grandfather fell ill and his body was carelessly thrown amidst the other bodies in the camp. “My father, at 6 years old did not realize his father had passed so he went and found him socks to keep his feet warm,” Shomel said. “So today we light the candle in his memory. We also light a candle in memory of my great uncle and his three sons who were murdered in Auschwitz.”
Yaniv Shmulker, a third generation survivor, lit a candle for his family who lived in Poland that was murdered in camps throughout Nazi Germany and “for the promise of never again.”
The candle lighting ceremony ended with IUPUI student, Jacob Mark. “I will light two candles: one for all the people who lost their lives in the Holocaust and another so that we, those who survived, will never forget.”
Dr. Mark Roseman, the director of the Jewish Studies Program at IU Bloomington gave a keynote address following the lighting of the candles. In the address “Remembering to Forget? Commemoration and Meaning of the Holocaust,” he talked about his time visiting different concentration and work camps in Germany alongside survivors.
He told the story of his trip to Sobibor with a survivor of the Sobibor uprising, Thomas Blatt. Blatt led Roseman down the same roads he took to the extermination camp exactly 73 years ago to Sobibor.
“On the day of the round up, the Blatts and their compatriots still known to the faint hope they were being taken to another camp to work,” Roseman said. “Tom at the time was 16 years old, desperate for life, and both his parents and family were in the truck. They knew by then most Jews were being murdered. And they knew there was some kind of killing facility in Sobibor.”
Sobibor was the most secret of all the extermination camps and was just known by the locals in Speicer as Blatt’s home. “Finally we reached the station of Sobibor. Seeing the single place of Sobibor, the sunny scents of the reality at place takes your breath away. It’s not just that it proves the place called Sobibor exists, it’s also since the landsman filled Shoah I’ve learned what Sobibor looks like,” Roseman said.
He went on to describe the green houses that occupy where the former camp was. Two children were playing cops and robbers, and an elderly couple wore expressionless faces as the two walked past the ridge of their home where the initial death selections were made.
“We were now retracing the steps of those who had arrived on the trains,” Roseman said. “Unlike the extermination and concentration camps, the prisoners were not sorted into a pit and those who were to be gassed. In Sobibor, there was no camp apart from the killing machine. But the men were separated from women, who facilitate the preparation for death.”
When the men and women and children were divided up, Blatt was for some reason chosen to shine an officer’s shoe rather than being selected for the gas chamber. Unfortunately, his family faced a different fate and were sent to the chambers.
The gas chamber was located in the woods. It used to have a glass casing where people could look in and see the ashes, but that has been removed. Despite the few candles lit along the wall, there was no sign of tourism around the camp.
The worst part of the camp was located to the left of the gas chamber, the crematorium. “The workers here were completely cut off from the other Jews working in the camp. When you entered this part of the camp you never came out,” Blatts said. When the uprising took place, the revolters in the camp had to leave those in the crematorium behind to their fate. Now, the crematorium is gone and there is nothing but green meadow.
The most unsettling part of Roseman’s speech was when he said Blatts began picking up white and black stones from the ground. “Only it wasn’t stone. It was bone,” Roseman said. “I recognized in the filigree pattern of chicken bones. The soil of the meadow was full of human remains.”
Toward the end of 1943, the revolts and loss of Polish Jewry closed the pure extermination camps. The later deportees during the Holocaust went to Auschwitz, leaving more memories of the large concentration and extermination camp.
“Auschwitz with its three camps and its industrial satellites, it is on such a gigantic scale to be a fitting symbol of a universe of destruction,” Roseman said. “But the pure extermination camps- Chelmno, Belzec, Treblinka, and Sobibor- with a combined death toll of two Auschwitz, our remarkable precisely because we have such little information.”
“It’s the smallness, quietness, and invisibility of the machinery that is most shocking. Reminding us that not technology so much- but social organization, participation, and will were what was required,” Roseman said. “But also, and this is an unsettling experience I want to draw your attention to today, it was powerful also because there was no public memories.”
Roseman ended by summing up the importance of commemoration of the Holocaust and the key to be able to do so. “It is the survivors’ duration that has been the most authentic connection to this part of the past. It is the survivors’ presence that has given purpose and dignity into today of our commemorations. When the survivors are gone the challenge for authenticity will be greatly.”
On May 1, a retired music teacher from Seymour, IN., Charles Moman, will have a photo exhibit honoring the victims of the Holocaust at the Domont Auditorium. IUPUI will hold a Holocaust Day of Observance consisting of film screenings and discussions on May 5 in Taylor Hall.