South Hills Interfaith Ministries hosts Holocaust remembrance

Published Apr 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm (Updated Apr 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm)

Dozens of people of different faiths gathered at Beth El Congregation April 27 to remember a time in history that many don’t like to talk about – the Holocaust.

This year is the 35th year for the community Holocaust remembrance, which is held each year at a different church and is organized by volunteers and employees of South Hills Interfaith Ministries (SHIM). The program was titled “No Longer Boys: American GI’s and the Liberation of the Camps” and focused on what it was like for the American soldiers who helped rescue Jewish people who had been imprisoned in concentration camps.

“Tonight we remember,” said SHIM Executive Director Jim Guffey at the start of the solemn program. He explained that during World War II, President Dwight Eisenhower had American soldiers in the area of concentration go there to see the horror of what was happening so that the soldiers could then liberate the camps.

A series of dramatic readings from the book “The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust” by Michael Hirsch were read during the observance. The passages taken from the book were from those of soldiers who witnessed the conditions of the Jews in concentration camps during World War II. Reading the passages were Bryce Churilla, Travis Churilla, Ray van Cleve, Alex Reitmeyer and Nicole Zeak.

The accounts read during the presentation were of the soldiers arriving to the camps and describing “walking skeletons” and people who were “emaciated” and starving. Another passage included a soldier remembering seeing ashes that had blown from a pile and onto the ground and turned his shoes a grey color.

“Tonight we thank all of the American GIs,” said Rev. Kristian McKinnes of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.

“As the survivors grow older, we must remember their voices,” said Rabbi Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel South.

Six yellow tulips were on display, which symbolized the six million Jews killed in the Holocaust. Yellow was chosen as it was the color of the star that Jews were forced to wear. Tulips were chosen to symbolize Holland, because the Dutch, as well as the Danes, Swedes, Bulgarians and Italians, tried to save Jews during the Holocaust.

Several people lit candles in remembrance of their loved ones who survived or perished in a concentration camp. Those lighting candles were Helen Bayer, Judy Berkowitz, Flora Calgaro, Judith Rothstein and Paul Silver.

After the remembrance, many people in attendance stayed to talk about their thoughts on the Holocaust and why it is important to remember it.

The observance was of significant importance to Betsy Harkin of Scott Township. Her grandfather helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp on April 29, 1945, as part of the 42nd Rainbow Division.

“It’s very special for me,” she said of the event, especially because the date of the program fell so close to the date her grandfather was at Dachau.

“You have to remember. It’s very important,” Harkin said. She added that she didn’t know her grandfather was one of the liberators until she was in high school and took a trip to Germany and Dachau.

“I walked in his footsteps,” she said.

“It’s a dark time in history, but important to remember,” said Karen West of Houston, who has attended the observance in years past.

“I wrote a master’s thesis on the Holocaust,” said Katie West of Houston, who added that although she’s of Methodist faith the Holocaust is “not just a Jewish subject.”

Clergy from several South Hills-area churches and synagogues were in attendance or participated in the event. The clergy included Rabbi Mark Mahler and Rabbi Jessica Locketz of Temple Emanuel of South Hills, Rev. Dr. Jay Abernathy Jr. of Unitarian Universalist Church of South Hills, Rev. David Bonnar of St. Bernard Church, Rev. Sandra Marsh-McClain of Jefferson United Methodist Church, Rev. Ken Miller of First Bethel United Methodist Church, Rev. Kristian McInnes of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rev. Dr. Dan Merry of Southminster Presbyterian Church, Rev. Louise Rogers of John McMillan Presbyterian Church, Rev. Brian Snyder of Bower Hill Community Church and Rev. Bob Walkup of Baldwin united Methodist Church.

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