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Annual Holocaust Memorial Service draws largest crowd

April 22, 2012|By ROXANN MILLER | roxann.miller@herald-mail.com
  • Emily Beaton and Barb Eshelman perform during the 34th annual Holocaust Memorial Service at Congregation Sons of Israel in Chambersburg (Pa.) on Sunday.
By Roxann Miller, Staff Writer

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. — “The Holocaust wasn’t something far away. The lives of many people in our own community have been and continue to be affected by what happened to them,” said Rabbi Jill Hackell of Congregation Sons of Israel Synagogue in Chambersburg.

She led Sunday’s 34th annual Holocaust Memorial Service, sponsored by the United Churches of the Chambersburg Area.

“From the generation who were themselves witnesses and from the next generation — the children of survivors. It’s through our stories that we and future generations will learn to say, ‘never again,’” Hackell said.

In what was called the largest attended service, more than 220 people filled the synagogue to listen to local descendants of Holocaust survivors share family memories, as well as to Vern Baker, aU.S. Armyveteran who was part of the liberation efforts of Dachau Concentration Camp.

“My name is Vicki Gartenberg Ginsburg. I am the middle child of Belle and Egon Gartenberg. I was named after Victor Gartenberg, my father’s father who died in Sobibor Concentration Camp in Poland on June 11, 1943,” Ginsburg said.

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She said her grandfather and his wife were rounded up at the same time as Anne Frank and her family, and traveled three days from Holland packed into a cattle car before arriving at Sobibor.

He and his wife died in the gas chambers the same day they arrived, Ginsburg said.

“I tell you these things today because I want to explain how Holocaust has always been and will always be a part of my family’s background and how it has shaped my life to this day,” she said.

What Baker of Chambersburg saw when assisting with the liberation of Dacau Concentration Camp is something he will never forget.

“You couldn’t believe people could look that way. Their heads were shaved, their eyes were sunk in — it was terrible, and those suits just hung on them,” he said.

Dead bodies were piled six to eight feet high because they ran out of wood (for burning) five days before we arrived, Baker said.

There were more than 30 box cars full of dead people as a result of being packed into a train for 27 days without food or water, he said.

In April 29, 1995, Baker and some of his fellow army veterans attended a celebration to commemorate the liberation of the camps.

“The day of the celebration was April 29, 1995. It was Sunday, and it was raining and somebody said the raindrops were tears from Heaven,” said Baker, choking back his own tears. “It is appropriate today that it is raining, and the raindrops are tears from Heaven.”

The memorial service included scripture readings, reflections, songs and prayers.

During the service, 11 children, representing local congregations, lit memorial candles to remember those who perished under Nazi rule.

“Six candles representing six million Jews that died during the Holocaust and five million others who were caught up in this terrible death machine,” Hackell said.

Sunday was the first time in 57 years that Michele Sommer Shapiro of Chambersburg has spoken publicly of her late father Ralph Sommer.

“I wanted to move the Holocaust into the future. All the people from that actual period are all in their late 80s now and survivors are all dying off, actual witnesses are dying off — how do we keep it alive?” she said. “We keep it alive through stories that we tell and how survivors are affected. I know the things that my father taught me were due to the experiences (he had). He just had this zest for life. He had a lot of faith. I don’t know if I went through what he went through if I could have had that kind of faith.”

Claudia Pasierb of Chambersburg brought her 12-year-old daughter Carilyn to the service.
She was shocked to learn that so many local people were directly impacted by the horrors of the Holocaust.

“We wanted to come and hear those stories. History can repeat itself, and it’s an important thing for the kids to learn about,” Pasierb said.

“When I heard all the stories about the people and how they had to suffer, and they were slaughtered – it was really scary,” said Carilyn.

The Rev. William H. Harter told those present to remain vigilant and don’t be passive.

“What we’ve heard about today is the infinite value of each person in this world created in the image of God — every color, every creed, every race, every background. This is what we must stand for as a people of faith,” he said.

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