Abe Fraiman and Mark Weinberg shivered in the brilliant but chilling 39-degree sunlight as they haltingly sang the unfamiliar words of a Christian psalm. Then Jeannie Gump, a Catholic mother of 12, listened while the Jews around her sang in Hebrew as the Cantor's voice wafted over the high-school football field in this middle American village-suburb of Chicago.
They and 2,700 other Christians and Jews huddled together, all wearing yellow Star-of-David armbands - the sign of persecution that the Nazis forced Jews to wear in World War II - yesterday at the first of one hundred solidarity worship rallies that will be held across the country. These services are dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust, when 6 million Jews were exterminated by the Nazis in World War II. The rallies all began in Skokie by concerned citizens as a response to a threatened march here by a Chicago Nazi group that planned to wear swastikas and storm trooper uniforms.
For Fraiman and Weinberg, just the mention of the Nazi party brings angry tears. They pull up the sleeves of their jackets, unbutton their shirt cuffs, roll up the sleeves and point to the numbers tatooed on their arms - indelible reminders of their years at Auschwitz, the worst death camp of all, where 1 million to 2 million jews were exterminated.
Last night, after the rally, Fraiman and Weinberg - like most of the estimated 7,000 concentration-camp survivors who have clustered together to live in Skokie, watched the first of the four-part series, "Holocaust."
"It is painful - but it has to be watched," said Fraiman. "This is to remind the Americans. The new generation doesn't know anything about it. When we survivors are gone our children shouldn't be living in fear that this can happen again."
From a distance, huddled with blankets in the stadium, the crowd could have been enjoying the innocent pleasure of a football rally. But then the words came and the tears coursed down many cheeks as they heard a rabbi quote from the concentration-camp memories, "A Selection From Night," by Elie Wiesel. "The three necks were placed at the same moment within nooses. 'Long live liberty.' cried the two adults . . . but the child was silent. Three chairs toppled over. Total silence throughout the camp . . . the two adults were no longer alive, but the third rope was still moving. The body was so light, the child was still alive. For nearly half an hour he struggled between life and death."
Fraiman, now 57, said, "I was 29 when they took me to Auschwitz. I lost two children. They took away from me a daughter 8 years and a son 11 years old. They make the sign with the thumb - this group goes left, this group goes right. My son and daughter went to one side, I never saw them again. It is too hard to talk," he said, and could not finish.
As painful as the memories are, holocaust survivors in this village, spurred by the recent anti-Semitic actions of a small band of Nazis, insist that it is their duty to remind the world. Skokie has nine synogogues and one of the largest clusters of Jews in the country - an estimated 40,000 out of a population of 70,000. They migrated here by the thousands in the 1950s because Skokie was a new suburb that provided reasonably priced housing for those Jews who wanted to leave Chicago's congested West Side.
Said one Buchenwald survivor. "It's not a conscious decision (that so many survivors were living in Skokie). We just wanted to be very close to each other. We were all living together in one neighborhood in Chicago and when we started to move out we started to move out together."
More than a year ago the Nazi party decided to target Skokie because the Martin Luther King Jr. movement had won the right to hold open-housing marches on the southwest side of Chicago where the Nazis have their headquarters.
In a nationally publicized controversy over whether the Nazis have the right to march in Skokie they were represented by the American Civil Liberties Union. This action resulted in a loss of 30 percent of the Illinois division of the ACLU membership.
In recent weeks both state and federal courts have upheld the right of the Nazis to march in Skokie in their storm trooper uniforms with swastika armbans. The Nazis will hold the march on June 25 unless the lower courts are reversed, which is considered unlikely.This incenses Skokie's Jews. "The Swastika is the symbol of genocide. We are all for freedom but this is disabusing freedom when they say they have the right to march through our streets and say 'we want to kill you,' said a Buchenwald survivor. He asked that his name not be used because of obscene anti-semitic phone calls his wife received after one published interview.
For those at yesterday's rally the Nazi party threat in one way seemed to be a blessing as Rabbi Neil Brief of the Niles Township Jewish Congregation said, "This gathering shows the spirit of Skokie responding to the First Amendment values of freedom of religion and freedom to be free of fear - and not saying that freedom of speech is absolute and separate from those other freedoms.
"This shows that we are one people under God," said Skokie village president Albert J. Smith. Mrs. Stephanie Jaye, a "born-again" Christian, said as she pulled on her Star-of-David armband, "I think this has brought about better understanding; the Nazis have brought us together because they have to be stopped."
For the young, who stood about wearing blue jeans and braces, there was some bewilderment about what it all meant. The Skokie high school plans to run lectures on the four-part "Holocaust" TV series this week. And one man who has already given lectures in high school is Mark Weinberg The words tumble fast as he says, "I tell them my story so that they will know a little bit about a very real and terrible history.They arrested me in 1943. The beat me up. I hang myself but they got me well. Then the Gestapo took me again. I was beaten very badly. They wanted to know who sabotaged the train.
"I was in 16 camps and jails, Auschwitz, Buchenwald . . . In the last summer, they brought in the Hungarian Jews; they killed between 12,000 and 15,000 daily. The gas chamber was huge. Then they dug three big holes and they piled it - corpses, wood, corpses, wood. Children. Women. One officer made this one woman disrobe and then he shot her," said Weinberg, pointing to the back of his neck. "The child was on the ground. They shoot the child. The shooting was better. In a gas chamber it took from three to 15 minutes to die."
Then Weinberk walked across the football field, arm-in-arm with another survivor friend.
Across the way high-school students laughed and shouted as they played football.