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< Echoes of Memory

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BY SUSAN WARSINGER

Another year of observing the Days of Remembrance at our United States Holocaust Memorial Museum has just passed. The revered event that took place was not much different from other years except that I was there with my two brothers most of the time. On the morning of the first day of the DOR, my brother Joe and I attended a program on our Museum’s collection as well as the dedication of a display about the Shapell Collections, Conservation, and Research Center that is currently under construction. It was held in the Hall of Witness of the Museum. Other Holocaust survivors and I joined the Shapell family in a ribbon-cutting ceremony for this new center to be built. I was feeling good because my brother was in the audience and sharing this experience with me.

After the event, we were invited to a luncheon in one of the classrooms where we usually have our survivor meetings. I was delighted to see this classroom converted into an elegant dining room, with lovely linen and satin tablecloths, shining silverware, long-stemmed wine glasses, and beautiful china dishes. The centerpiece on each table was different; a marvelously decorated cake resembling a top hat without a brim. All the cakes looked to me like different colored time capsules. We were served by well-dressed and professional attendants. It felt as if we were in a four-star restaurant in Washington.

In the afternoon, my brother Joe and I met our younger brother, Ernest, at the Wardman Park Hotel where we shared memories of our childhood, talked about our continually growing families, envisaged our future, and expressed our divergent views on politics. It felt wonderful being with them. We continued our heart-to-heart conversation during the delectable cocktail hour where we drank red wine and ate tasty appetizers. I was delighted to introduce my brothers to my Museum friends.

The 2016 National Tribute Dinner began with a speech about the Shapell Collections, Conservation, and Research Center time capsule followed by a panel discussion led by our director, Sara Bloomfield. It was called “The Battle for Ideas,” and the panel included representatives from Turkey, Syria, and Canada. They each talked about how the people in their own country perceived the Holocaust. A panel discussion for communicating ideas seemed to me a very successful format. I thought that the hundreds of people attending this dinner were all paying close attention.

The keynote speaker was Representative John Lewis, one of the few surviving leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. He talked about safeguarding democracy, promoting human dignity, and creating a more just world. The dinner was delicious and one of our companions at the table was Jessica C. Abrahams, the chair of the Washington Lawyers Committee, which promotes and provides support for Museum initiatives that explore the legal dimensions of the Holocaust and their continuing relevance to national and international law. The discussions around our table were pleasant, informative, and valuable. I was in my glory sitting between my two brothers who expressed their joy of being with me. I think they were proud of me because they knew that I was an important part of the Museum and that I had donated much of my time to it. We had been young children together during the Holocaust and were together at this significant event.

The next morning we had breakfast at the hotel and were rushed off on a bus to the Emancipation Hall of the Capitol. The covering letter for the program was from the White House, signed by President Obama. The United States Army Band played, the chairman of the Museum spoke, the 3rd United States Infantry marched and presented the colors, the ambassador from Israel to the United States greeted us, Sara Bloomfield made remarks, and Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker presented the keynote address. I took many pictures of my friend Dora Klayman, because she was one of the candle lighters during the ceremony. I also took a picture of Hazzan Henrique Ozur Bass, who sang the “Hymn of the Partisans.” He is the cantor at my daughter’s synagogue who helped my twin grandsons with the preparation of their bar mitzvahs. Before the program ended, it gave me great pleasure to see my friend, Gideon Frieder, come to the podium and recite the mourner’s kaddish. He has such a resonant, mellow, and melodious voice. It reverberated with passion and devoutness throughout the Emancipation Hall. I was thrilled to hear him and so very proud of him.

We returned to the Wardman Park Hotel and again had a wonderful lunch. I had a chance to socialize with many survivors who volunteer at the Museum. We know each other well because we have been together for such a long time and have become friends over the years. We were there at this two-day event for the same reason President Obama explained in his letter to the National Commemoration of the Days of Remembrance “. . . we pay tribute to those who lost their lives in the Holocaust and whose horrific experiences continue to mobilize us to stand up and speak out. We recommit to fighting against hatred in all its forms and guarding against passivity and silence. We reaffirm our shared responsibility to teach our children and our grandchildren the lessons of the past. Together, we can defend the rights and freedoms that are the birthright of all human kind.”

It was a memorable experience that I shared with my fellow survivors and my much-loved brothers. I was feeling good.

© 2016 Susan Warsinger. The text, images, and audio and video clips on this website are available for limited non-commercial, educational, and personal use only, or for fair use as defined in the United States copyright laws.

Tags:   susan warsingerechoes of memory, volume 9

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