By Gerry Greber
LA JOLLA, California — San Diego’s Jewish community on Sunday, April 11, held its largest commemoration of the Holocaust in 65 years to remember and honor those who were victims or liberators during the Holocaust.
Organized by Michael Bart, a son of Holocaust survivors, the ceremony at the Lawrence Family JCC paid particular attention to American GI’s who fought in WW2 including those who participated in the liberation of some of the concentration camps.
A movie presentation told of a gun battle with the Nazi guards at Dachau, in which all the Nazi guards at that concentration camp were killed. Sandy Lebman, who participated in the liberation of Dachau, was on hand for the presentation.
The movie and opportunity to meet Lebman brought to tears Ralph Ransenberg, who attended the ceremony with his wife Marlene. Like Lebman he had been an American GI in the European theatre, but Ransenberg never got to directly avenge his family against their Nazi persecutors. His unit was among those that fought in northern Italy before going on to occupy Germany after the war.
Much of Ransenberg’s family had been murdered by the Nazis. His father and the three youngest children perished at Theresienstadt. A brother, Gunther, was executed at Auschwitz after being among a group of inmates who threw snowballs in fun at some girls who had hurled them at inmates repairing a railroad. The other inmates weren’t Jewish and they were not punished. But Gunther was executed for “defiling” the Aryan race. A remaining brother Fred, survived several concentration camps and now lives in South Carolina.
At a gathering after the event, Ransenberg met Lebman and they spoke with each other for some time.
The Yom HaShoah commemoration was noted in a City of San Diego proclamation issued by San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders. And what a special day it turned out to be. The 300-seat Garfield Auditorium was so packed, a special room with a large screen had to be opened to handle the overflowing crowd.
The guest speaker for the event was Stephen Smith, executive director of USC Shoah Foundation Institute who showed a moving film about people who had survived because their liberators arrived only slightly ahead of their intended execution dates.
Within the observance were candlelightings to memorialize the Six Million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, including 1.5 million children; the recitation of Kaddish, the singing of El Moleh Rachamim, and an emotional rendering of HaTikvah (The Hope), which is today Israel’s National Anthem.
Greber is a freelance writer based in Carlsbad, California.
By Gerry Greber
LA JOLLA, California– Holocaust histories frequently omit the stories of what happened to survivors from their time of their liberation to their final destination – Israel. This period is mostly recorded in a simple statement that “They went to Israel.” Anita Diamant fills in some of those blanks in her latest novel Day After Night.
During her travels in Israel she and her family visited Atlit, several kilometers south of Haifa. Diamant said she had entered another era of history.
After WW2 and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps, the occupying British, still in control of Palestine under the terms of the League of Nations British Mandate, turned what were formally barracks for British soldiers into a refugee/detention area for Jewish survivors trying to get to Israel without visas or papers of any kind.
The survivors were housed in barracks originally built for the soldiers, and were enclosed behind barbed wire fences. Diamant noticed the pictures on the wall of Jews peering through what were three layers of barbed wire. It was very depressing considering that the survivors were in the same kind of environment–minus the gas chambers and crematoria–from which they had just been liberated. Therefore, it was still a prison.
Speaking at the San Diego Jewish Book Fair on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Diamant said she could feel the pain and anxiety of living in this environment. Some refugees stayed for only two months, others as long as six months. She decided to tell the story of the mental, as well as physical, survival in this environment.
Coming to a camp with barbed wire frightened some people because of there previous experience with the concentration camps. In the novel Day After Night she tells the story of four teen age girls and how they would handle the experience. She selected four girls because she felt that people face adversity, loss, and pain, in diverse ways, and that this format would give her the opportunity to express the feelings of different individuals.
An important fact was that Jewish soldiers were permitted to give Hebrew lessons inside the camp, thereby relieving some of the pressure of living behind barbed wire.
Women mainly comprised the full house at the Lawrence Family JCC that heard Diamant. Audience members not only wished to hear her discuss her latest book but also enthusiastically acknowledged her for her previous work The Red Tent, which motivated a group San Diegans to develop plans for a community mikvah.
Diamant will return to San Diego on January 30, 2010 to participate in a program entitled the “Mikvah Monologues,” sponsored by the non-profitWaters of Eden organization that has been moving the community mikvah project along.
Greber is a freelance writer based in Carlsbad