Dozens of people of different faiths gathered at Beth El Congregation of The South Hills April 27 to remember a time in history many don’t like to talk about – the Holocaust.
The event marked the 35th year for the community Holocaust remembrance, which is held annually at a different church and is organized by volunteers and employees of South Hills Interfaith Ministries.
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 were 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, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower had American soldiers in the area of concentration camps go there to see the horror of what was happening.
A series of readings from the book “The Liberators: America’s Witnesses to the Holocaust” by Michael Hirsch were featured during the observance. 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,” 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 gray.
“Tonight we thank all of the American GIs,” said the Rev. Kristian McKinnes of St. Paul 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 6 million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust. Yellow was chosen because it was the color of the stars 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 were held 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 special importance to Betsy Harkin of Scott Township, whose grandfather helped liberate the Dachau concentration camp 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 Methodist, 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, the Rev. Dr. Jay Abernathy Jr. of Unitarian Universalist Church of South Hills, the Rev. David Bonnar of St. Bernard Church, the Rev. Sandra Marsh-McClain of Jefferson United Methodist Church, the Rev. Ken Miller of First Bethel United Methodist Church, the Rev. Kristian McInnes of St. Paul Episcopal Church, the Rev. Dr. Dan Merry of Southminster Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Louise Rogers of John McMillan Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Brian Snyder of Bower Hill Community Church and the Rev. Bob Walkup of Baldwin United Methodist Church.