UPPER DUBLIN >> Yom Hashoah — Holocaust Remembrance Day — was commemorated at Upper Dublin High School last week, beginning with a candle-lighting ceremony that brought a hush over the 11th-grade students gathered in the auditorium.
Though the official date is May 5 this year, the commemoration was held April 13 followed by an opportunity for the students to hear the stories of Holocaust survivors.
Terming the ceremony led by Rabbi David Gerber of Beth Or “a solemn remembrance of the loss of 6 million fellow human beings,” Principal Robert Schultz told the students, “It is your responsibility to pass on the knowledge to the next generation and never forget.”
Gerber, who brought with him a 400-year-old Torah sent to the United States in the 1930s by a Jewish community in Poland when fears began to circulate over their future, said it was “the only thing left” from that community.
“It was a survivor,” he said, representing “the spirit of hope that allows Judaism to survive and all people to survive.”
One candle was lighted to “share its light” with “six others,” lighted by students “to burn in testimony; to illumine the path to peace,” Gerber said.
“The Holocaust was one of the darkest periods in human history,” he said; the candles represent “how much light exists in the world because of that.”
The seventh candle is “a symbol of hope,” he said, after which a period of silence followed, broken by the sound of the shofar, representing “a call to action.”
Holding the Yom Hashoah ceremony at the high school was “a first for him,” Gerber said afterward. “We’re hoping the program catches on.
“Upper Dublin set a great example with this.”
The program coordinates with the 11th-grade curriculum in which the students study world history or European history and read “Night,” by Elie Wiesel, district Director of Curriculum Eva Morrison said prior to the ceremony.
A Genocide Symposium will be presented by the history department April 21 and a “Passages from Dark to Light” art exhibit by UD Class of 1984 graduate Reena Milner Brooks is slated for May 4 and 5, Morrison said.
The programs comply with Act 70, the Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Act, passed by the Pennsylvania Legislature in 2014, she said. The series is made possible through the collaboration of the Upper Dublin History Department, the Library Media Center, Temple Beth Or, Temple Sinai, and The Holocaust Awareness Museum and Educational Center.
Following the commemoration, the juniors spent their history classes listening to the stories of Holocaust survivors who visited the school: David Tuck, Manya Perel, Annelise Nossbaum and Itka Zygmuntowvicz.
David Tuck was 10 years old, his family one of 12 Jewish families in a Polish town bordering Germany when he was given a number and sent to a ghetto, where the men and boys were put into forced labor, he told the juniors. Awakened at 4 a.m. to work and given only two slices of bread and some soup every day, he “survived” by taking the leftovers discarded in a trashcan by the work foreman, he said.
Later chosen as one of 10 boys to collect trash, he said they were threatened with death if they brought any food back to the camp. One day, four boys were missing, and the people at the camp were herded into a stadium, where they watched as three boys were hung.
Tuck described working in a cemetery, collecting anything of value from the dead to put in a bag for the Nazi captors, of getting typhoid, but “I did not admit it or they would kill me,” and again surviving.
Eventually he was sent to Auschwitz, a concentration and death camp, where the phrase “Arbeit macht frei,” meaning work makes you free, was at the entrance, but “the only way to go free was to die there,” Tuck said. After being given a new number and a striped uniform — “I was skin and bones” — he was sent to work in a factory.
Again he foraged food from trashcans and one day was caught, having hidden a slice of bread, he said. A soldier with a machine gun took him to the commander’s office, but he survived by making a deal to give him his cigarette rations.
After Auschwitz was closed, he and others were put in cattle cars, given no food for two days, stripped naked and made to go outside, and taken to another camp and put to work building planes, Tuck said. With no food, he boiled wood in water to eat, he said.
After five and a half years, the Americans came and freed them, he said. Tuck weighed 78 pounds.
In 1950 he came to the United States, where he learned to speak English, and is “still learning.”
“I did not forget, but I don’t live with hate,” Tuck said. “I do not want to live through it again.”