Amberg Rabbi honors BMC Days of Remembrance observance
April 29, 2014
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- The Bavaria Military Community observed the Days of Remembrance here Monday, April 28, with a series of poems written and read by students from Netzaberg Middle School, and a firm message from Amberg Rabbi Elias Dray.
Like every military ceremony, the afternoon started with the German and U.S. National Anthems. For some, this was somber enough. But then 20 students from Mrs. Nipper's Netzaberg Middle School seventh grade Language Arts class read aloud poems they wrote to the standing-room only crowd.
With titles like "Captured," "Fear," "I Cry For Them Still" and "The End," these poems began to set the somber and painful truths of the horrors that took place right in our own back yards, a mere 70 years ago.
But it was one poem in particular, one entitled Jewel Necklace, written and read by Kassidy Steese that brought the true meaning of why we have these observances and why we must remember. As Steese read her poem with the eloquence of someone much more her senior, tears came to the eyes of onlookers
who were just as amazed by her poem as they were about what they had learned.
By the time Dray stepped to the podium, there was not a single noise in the room. One could literally hear a pin drop as the audience thought about the tragedies so many people faced which made all of our problems seem miniscule in comparison.
Some even had a look of embarrassment on their face as they listened, as if they had yelled at their child for spending too much money, or complained to their spouse about washing the dishes or about the mortgage payment just a few hours before. And then the rabbi spoke. He spoke about this year's theme, "Confronting the Holocaust: The American Response." He spoke about his grandmother who was born and raised in Krakow, and ended up in the Plaszów labor camp, one of the camps made famous by the movie Schindler's List.
"She was one of the lucky ones," he said.
She spent five years working in a factory where she got food and shelter during the day and only had to endure the hardships of the camp at night.
The rest of her family was not so lucky. They all perished in the concentration camps. Dray's grandfather, who was born and grew up in the city of Auschwitz, was herded on to the train and was on his way to the death camps when he and four friends decided they had a better chance out on their own then in the camps and they jumped off the train and ran until a farmer hid them for five years until the end of the war.
The Rabbi heard stories from his grandparents, but even he could not fathom the travesties committed by neighbor on neighbor, friend on friend, family member on family member.
Dray ended his speech by reiterating a few important things--ones he wanted everyone, especially the children present to remember.
First, "We all have our responsibility to stand up and not accept injustice," he said. "The number of Holocaust survivors still alive is getting smaller and smaller. Soon there will not be anyone left who was actually in the Holocaust. It is up to the next generations, especially the children, to remember, and pass the stories on, so that nothing like this will ever happen again."
Lastly, Dray said in closing, "Remember, Hitler was not successful. He wanted there to be no Jews left in Germany, but there are Jews in Germany. And they are prospering."
The rabbi closed by telling a story of a visit he took with 40 people to the Auschwitz concentration camp. He said what touched him the most was seeing the clothes and the toys of the little children who were forced to strip and give away their dolls before they were gassed.
"I can never get that image out of my head," Dray said.
The audience was then able to look at photo displays set up around the room showing historical photos from the Holocaust.
The words of the rabbi will resound for years to come.
"We must stand up for injustice. Words do matter. We must fight against those who speak of hate or claim the Holocaust didn't exist. We must never let it happen again."
The 44th ESB hosted the observance.