False identity papers. A portrait of a family before it was deported to concentration camps. A passport issued by the Third Reich.
These were some of the artifacts that Holocaust survivors and their family members displayed Sunday at Congregation Har Shalom in Potomac.
The exhibition was part of Holocaust Remembrance Day, known as Yom HaShoah in Hebrew. Around the world, similar events were taking place. Har Shalom’s was sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington.
During the Holocaust, which occurred just before and during World War II, about 6 million Jews were killed. Before the Holocaust, there had been about 9.5 million Jews living in Europe, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Today, about 500,000 Holocaust survivors are still alive, according to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany.
More than 800 people packed the synagogue Sunday. They lit candles to honor the victims, heard stories and poems from survivors, and listened to songs sung by Kol Sasson, a Jewish a cappella group from the University of Maryland.
There were 19 posters on the synagogue walls to commemorate the estimated 20,000 Jewish communities destroyed by the Nazis. Each poster represented a country and detailed its losses.
At the service, about two dozen Holocaust survivors stood to be recognized by the congregation and took an oath to pass their memories and stories to the next generation.
The oath was led by Nesse Godin, who survived the Stutthof concentration camp, four Nazi labor camps and a death march. Godin, who now has three children, seven grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, has spent her life teaching about the Holocaust.
Har Shalom Rabbi Adam Raskin said that their community is uniquely populated by survivors and relatives of survivors, and he spoke of “people who remind us to have hope despite people’s shocking propensity for brutality.”
Edith Mayer Cord knows that hope. Her family fled the Nazis in Austria and wound up in France. Her father and brother were murdered in the Auschwitz concentration camp, but Cord and her mother survived by hiding.
On Sunday, Cord read aloud her poem “Freedom,” which she had written about the day in 1944 when, as a teenager, she fled Nazi-occupied France and went to Switzerland. Once there, she said, she threw herself on the ground and kissed it out of relief.
The keynote speaker was Walter Reich, a psychiatrist, professor and former director of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Reich urged listeners to face the repugnant and gruesome aspects of the Holocaust and not sidestep them.
The phrases “remember” and “never again” are well-meaning, he said, “but they are not enough.”