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Holocaust recalled

About 200 people gathered Sunday at Congregation Sons of Israel to remember the 11 million who died in concentration camps and e

About 200 people gathered Sunday at Congregation Sons of Israel to remember the 11 million who died in concentration camps and e

May 05, 2003|by DON AINES

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - In December 1944, a frightened young woman stood in line at the Auschwitz death camp waiting to have a serial number tattooed on her wrist.

Another woman, a camp prostitute, put her arm around Gitta Kartagener's shoulder. "Honey, when you get out of here, you'll buy a big bracelet and cover that up," the prostitute said.

That surreal encounter gave hope to Kartagener, who managed to survive Auschwitz, immigrate to the United States and raise a family.

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Sunday afternoon at Congregation Sons of Israel, her daughter, Student Rabbi Rena Blumenthal relayed the story to approximately 200 people, Jews and Gentiles, who gathered in the synagogue for the 26th annual Holocaust Memorial Service.

Blumenthal's mother lived to relate her story, but 11 million people who died in the concentration camps and elsewhere throughout Europe at the hands of the Nazis have to rely on the living to keep their stories alive.

"You will hear some people who tell you the Holocaust never happened," said the Rev. William Harter of Falling Spring Presbyterian Church, who has been involved in the memorial since its inception.

"We must not give a posthumous victory to Hitler," Harter said after the memorial. "That posthumous victory would be if we fail to remember."

The packed sanctuary of the synagogue was testimony that people here do remember. Blumenthal said the congregation consists of only a few dozen people, but she was surprised when she attended her first memorial a couple of years ago "coming to a community like this, where there is such a small Jewish community."

While the slaughter of 6 million Jews and 5 million Gentiles is remembered as the greatest crime against humanity of the 20th century, Blumenthal said genocide still is a global horror.

"In the past five years, 3 million people have died in the Congo," where a vicious civil war has been waged, Blumenthal said. "And each one of them had a story."

Similar horrors have occurred around the world in places such as Cambodia and the Balkans during the second half of the 20th century.

"Unfortunately, the past has a way of repeating itself," the Rev. Peter Emig said during the service. "So we must speak loudly when there is injustice."

Harter estimated clergy and laypersons from a dozen or more area Christian churches took part in or attended the ceremony.

"Human beings have to learn to break down the walls between each other," said the Rev. John Dromazos of the First United Methodist Church of Chambersburg. Sometimes it takes ages for those barriers to crumble.

"There has been such a history of anti-Semitism in Christian churches for centuries," he said.

Sunday, however, youths from the synagogue were joined by children from Christian churches to light 11 candles, one for each of the million who died during the Holocaust. Everyone then stood for the reading of the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish memorial prayer.

One of those at the service, Verne Baker of Chambersburg, saw a concentration camp from the other side of the wire.

When as a young soldier he went to Dachau, most of the guards were gone, but emaciated people emerged from the barracks in waves. Some of the GIs who entered before him came out and began to vomit.

"In the camp there was a railroad siding and there were 30 cars of dead people. You never saw anything like it," said Baker, who returned in 1995 for the 50th anniversary of its liberation.

"It's just to honor those people," Baker said when asked why he attends the services.

Kartagener was able to get herself, her mother and sister transferred out of Auschwitz to clear rubble in the bombed-out cities of Germany, according to her daughter. She was in Bergen-Belsen when the British liberated that camp.

The young woman from Poland knew English and asked a soldier for two candles to celebrate the Sabbath. Instead, she found herself interviewed on the BBC, an interview overheard by a distant relative in England.

After a year in a camp for the displaced in Sweden, a relative in America arranged for passage to her new home.

Blumenthal was asked if her mother ever bought that big bracelet to cover the serial number.

"No, she had the tattoo removed," Blumenthal said.

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