By Chris Lushis
NOTRE DAME — Members of the University of Notre Dame family gathered outside the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes for a special prayer vigil to witness personal testimonies and reflections in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust on April 15.
Holy Cross Father David Scheidler began the vigil by invoking God’s assistance, praying, “While we cannot bring the dead back to life, we can ensure that their memories live on and their deaths were not in vain. Help us remember with regret and repentance the crimes against God and the people first chosen by God. Remind us of our common roots, the deep spiritual patrimony we share, and help us work together for a world of peace and understanding.”
The vigil, led by Notre Dame alumnus Trent Spoolstra, was offered for Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day or “Yom HaShoah” in Hebrew. This day was inaugurated in 1953 to commemorate the six million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust and those in the Jewish Resistance movement who took a stand against the Nazis.
Raz Revah, the Israeli emissary for the Jewish Federation of St. Joseph Valley, also helped organize the event. Revah, who was born and raised in Israel, shared her experiences of this day in her homeland. “In Israel, flags are lowered to half-staff, both the prime minister and president make speeches, and holocaust survivors light 6 torches to symbolize the 6 million Jews killed. Perhaps the most touching tribute of the day, however, happens at 10 a.m. During that time, air raid sirens sound throughout the country and for one minute; everyone in Israel stops everything they are doing to observe in solemn reflection. Even people driving on busy highways will stop their cars in the middle of the road and stand beside their vehicles in silence as the sirens are sounded.”
Revah also shared details of her visit to a Nazi concentration camp. “After studying about the Holocaust for years in school, I visited Auschwitz and had the chance to see it with my own eyes,” she said. “I visited the gas chambers and saw the scratch marks on the walls where people tried to escape; I visited the crematorium where millions of my people were burned to death. But I also met a Polish Christian who saved 35 Jews during the war in his small house. There is a saying in Hebrew that says, ‘if you have saved one life, it is as if you have saved the entire world.’ This Polish Christian saved entire worlds. After this meeting I realized that despite all the evil and unimaginable brutality that took place during the Holocaust, there were good people who risked their lives to do the right thing. This gives me great hope for the future.”
Notre Dame sophomore and Jewish Club President Mary Carrigan then read portions of Elie Wiesel’s Noble Prize winning memoirs, “Night,” which depicted his experiences as a teenager in the Auschwitz concentration camp.
The most intense and tragic testimony however, came from Dora Goldberg, a Polish Jew who was just a young girl at the time of the Holocaust. She recounted heart-wrenching details of the persecutions she endured, including watching her father and mother taken away by the Gestapo and later learning they had both been executed at Auschwitz. Of the approximately 60 people in her family, by the end of the war 52 of them had been murdered. However, God protected Dora and her younger brother Harry, when a kind and generous Catholic couple risked their own lives to hide them in their home. Miraculously, even with the threat of death an ever-present reality, they were kept safe from Nazi aggressors through the end of the war.
Afterwards, Dora worked as a nanny before receiving a visa to study in the United States where she met a Notre Dame student whom she married. She then earned her undergraduate degree from Saint Mary’s College and a master’s degree from the University of Notre Dame, spending the majority of her career teaching French at Washington High School.
The vigil also recalled those who fought the injustice of the Nazis through organized resistance groups. The Warsaw Ghetto, where 400,000 Jews were contained in an area of 1.3 square miles led to the rise of the Jewish Combat Unit (ZOB) and the Jewish Military Union (ZZW). With light firearms and grenades they mounted initially successful attacks against the unsuspecting Germans through covert means in the midst of mass deportations to concentration camps. However, the resistance was largely defeated when the Nazis began to burn the majority of the ghetto, killing many and removing any advantages of clandestine warfare for the Jews.
The service concluded with a communal lighting of candles in remembrance and silent prayer of the “Mourner’s Kaddish,” a customary Jewish solemn hymn that offers thanks to God for His goodness and love, even in death.
Before closing, University of Notre Dame History Professor Lionel Jensen briefly offered a reflection of the significance of the Kaddish. “This hymn of praise affirms the unending cycle of life into death and it remembers with love and passion what God has given us as life but also to know that at some point that life will be extinguished,” he said. “However, despite this loss, we still praise God and glorify His name. We also recall those who have preceded us and those with no one to remember them or pray for them. We continue to affirm through our presence here tonight and by praying the Kaddish that God and our power collected is sufficient to diminish and, if not altogether, even quash the forces of evil.”
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