More than a dozen teenage members of St. Bernard’s youth group sat mesmerized in the sanctuary of Beth El Congregation of the South Hills last Sunday night, some hearing for the first time personal accounts of Holocaust survivors and their rescuers.
“I thought it was amazing that they could find redemption after such traumatic experiences,” said Jake Grefenstette, a 10th-grader at St. Bernard’s, who was one of hundreds of South Hills community members in attendance at the South Hills Interfaith Ministries 31st Annual Community Holocaust Observance. “And I think it’s amazing that people of all faiths came together to share these joys and sorrows.”
Eighteen South Hills clergy members, including Rabbi Alex Greenbaum of Beth El and Rabbis Mark Mahler and Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel of South Hills, participated in the service, which incorporated audience readings as well as the stories of seven survivors as re-told by seven community members.
“These were lives saved because compassionate individuals took risks … proving whoever saves a life, saves the world,” said Rev. Sandra Marsh-McClain, of the First United Methodist Church.
The stories of Sarah Reichman, Hermine Markovitz, Gary Gold, Marlene Gold, Yolanda Willis, Sam Weinreb and Goldie Weinreb each recounted escape, hiding, loss and abuse, differing for each individual, but sharing the common themes of astonishing courage, and the iron will to survive
The survivors themselves, along with their families, listened rapt from the audience.
Beth El members Paul Silver, of the Pittsburgh Symphony, Janet Mostow and Sarah Nadler set the mood of the evening with bittersweet music. Silver played several selections on viola, while Mostow and Nadler each performed solo vocals.
Following Mostow’s rendition of “Ani Ma’amin,” each survivor whose story had been told came to the front of the sanctuary to light a memorial candle, each remembering out loud those whom they had lost to the murderous Nazis.
Pittsburgh Holocaust Center Director Edie Naveh also lit a candle in memory of the nine survivors from the region who passed away this year.
The final candle was kindled in remembrance of righteous gentiles.
“How many stood aside, mute and unconcerned, forgetting the command, ‘You shall not remain idle while your brother bleeds?’” asked Rev. Lance Chapman, of the Hamilton Presbyterian Church. “The last candle is for those rescuers whose actions broke the silence.”
It has been 65 years since the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, and each year there are fewer and fewer survivors remaining to testify as to the atrocities the Jews were forced to endure. The members of St. Bernard’s youth group appreciated and were inspired by the opportunity to hear the survivors, and their stories.
“Everybody has such a different but equally powerful story,” said Daniel McTiernan, a ninth-grader. “They suffered such terrible losses, but how great a story it is that they got through it, and how people were so courageous in helping to hide them and helping them escape. We’d all like to think we’d be super courageous in a situation like that, but I just don’t know.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)