George Kalman was 9 years old when he was shoved into a cattle car to be deported to a concentration camp. He was 10 years old when a Russian soldier entered his forced labor camp and liberated him on April 2, 1945.
“The Holocaust did not end in 1945,” he said. “The ‘Never Again’ continued and is continuing today.”
Kalman is one of 54 local Holocaust survivors who received the Phoenix Holocaust Association’s Shofar Zakhor award this year. It’s the first time since the award’s inception in 1989 that PHA is giving the annual award to more than one person.
Given during the annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, the award recognizes contributions made to genocide awareness and Holocaust education. It is usually given to an educator.
“Hearing from or meeting a survivor is educational and one of the best ways to combat Holocaust denial,” said Sheryl Bronkesh, president of PHA. “We wanted to express our gratitude to all our survivors for their courage in telling others that they are Holocaust survivors — whether that is speaking to a class, telling their children and grandchildren or telling friends at their assisted living facility.”
The decision to break from tradition and give this award to Holocaust survivors was made last year.
“We had no time to waste as the number of survivors is dwindling because of their advanced age,” Bronkesh said. “In 2020 and thus far in 2021, 10 survivors in the community have passed away.”
Kalman has been active in Holocaust education for over 25 years, speaking with a variety of men’s clubs, senior groups and students who want to learn about the past, he said.
“Instead of giving a prepared talk, I conduct my meetings as a one-on-one Q&A format,” he said. “I tell them that I like hostile questions like, ‘I hear frequently that the Holocaust never happened. Why?’ Excellent question, let’s talk about it in detail.”
The PHA is holding its annual commemoration virtually on April 11 at 1 p.m. Holocaust survivors will speak accompanied by music and a memorial candle-lighting ceremony. Rep. Alma Hernandez (LD-3) will present the keynote address. Hernandez reintroduced her Holocaust education bill in February, which would require public schools in Arizona to teach students about the Holocaust and other genocides — including the Rwandan, Bosnian and Armenian genocides — at least twice between grades seven and 12.
“My message is simple: we must pass the legislation that mandates Holocaust education if we truly want to ensure that this never happens again,” said Hernandez. “We must teach the future generations about the atrocities of the Holocaust and ensure that they understand what hate, bigotry and xenophobia can do.”
Those wishing to attend must register at phxha.com.
PHA is one of several organizations in Greater Phoenix that have planned events around Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on April 8, 2021.
Hillel at Arizona State University is hosting a 24-hour name reading on campus from sundown April 7 to sundown April 8. Student volunteers will read the names of thousands of the six million Jewish people who perished at the hands of the Nazis. In addition to the names, the victims’ age and place of death will be read out.
For students not living on campus and those uncomfortable with in-person events, Hillel is encouraging attendance of a Zikaron Basalon (Remembrance in the Living Room) event on Zoom, at 7:30 p.m. April 7, hosted by PHA.Holocaust survivor Marion Weinzweig will share her story, and a poem written by Holocaust survivor Anna Geslewitz will be read.
Those wishing to attend must register at eventbrite.com.
East Valley Jewish Community Center is hosting two virtual live tours of Auschwitz on April 8 in commemoration of Yom HaShoah, one at 1 p.m. and another at 7 p.m.
The EVJCC Center for Holocaust Education has a partnership with Jerzy Wojcik, who lives in Poland and has been a certified Auschwitz guide and educator for more than 14 years. Wojcik conducts the tours in real time and uses preexisting digital resources, including the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum’s virtual reality panorama, archival historical footage, and recordings from drone flights to accompany his commentary.
The tours are two hours long and space is limited to allow for discussion and Q&A. The cost is $30 per device. For more information and to register, visit evjcc.org/Auschwitz-tour.
Valley Beit Midrash is hosting Janet R. Kirchheimer for a virtual commemoration at 11 a.m April 8. Kirchheimer is a teaching fellow at The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership and the daughter of Holocaust survivors. She’ll be sharing her family’s story and reading some poems she wrote over the course of about 15 years related to her family’s experiences and what they’ve meant for her.
“Poetry is about what’s on the page, but — perhaps more importantly — about what’s not on the page,” she said. “Poetry allowed me to enter the maze that is the Shoah and try to figure out my place in this world.”
Growing up, she knew 90% of her family was missing. “I was lucky — I had one grandmother,” she said.
There will be time for participants to share their own stories and poems during the event.
It is important to create an opportunity for people to come together and remember the Holocaust, because “unfortunately, never again has meant again and again,” as evidenced by ongoing genocides, she said.
Those wishing to attend must register at visitvalleybeitmidrash.org.
The Israeli American Council organized a worldwide six million steps in honor of the six million Jewish lives lost campaign and invited people to wear a black shirt, take a walk and add their number of steps to the global count at iac360.org/6m.
Yamit Harel, who does community engagement for IAC Arizona, invite anybody who wants to participate to walk with her at 5 p.m. April 8, at Paseo Vista Park in Chandler and to RSVP at tinyurl.com/a9paf69x.
“It’s important to remember all the lost lives and to appreciate all the things we have now,” said Harel, whose grandmother successfully hid from the Nazis and escaped. “It’s part of our history. It’s part of the reason we are here.”
Harel moved to Phoenix from Israel three years ago, and goes out of her way to mark Yom HaShoah and other days that would be more easily observed in Israel.
“It’s easy to forget here,” she said. “You can let special days and holidays go by without even telling your kids or remembering or doing anything. I have three girls and every time I point out, ‘Listen, I know it seems like a regular day but it’s not.’ And there are still traditions and things that we need to remember and talk about.”
The Jewish Community of Sedona and the Verde Valley will present a 90-minute webinar for Holocaust Remembrance Day at 3 p.m. April 11.
Representatives of children and grandchildren of Holocaust survivors will speak about the impact their family stories had on their upbringing and their ways of coping with challenges.
Those wishing to attend should visit jcsvv.org.
The Arizona Jewish Historical Society is hosting Holocaust survivor Oskar Knoblauch for an online presentation on April 16. His family fled Germany in 1936 to Poland, only to see it invaded by Germany in 1939. His family was forced into the Krakow Ghetto, and when it was liquidated, put to work for the Gestapo.
In the preface of his autobiography, “A Boy’s Story, a Man’s Memory — Surviving the Holocaust 1933-1945,” he wrote a short segment directly to Holocaust deniers.
“I ask those Holocaust deniers to explain to me where the six million Jews are. What happened to them? Did they just disappear into thin air? No, you deniers, those six million were turned into skeletons and ashes and were buried in almost every European country.”
Because such a large number can be difficult to process, he asked readers to imagine the entire population of Arizona, which was just over six million at the time of his book’s publication in 2014. “The next time you find yourself in a traffic jam, let your mind wander for a minute and picture Arizona without a living soul,” he wrote.
AZJHS is also streaming the documentary film, “Prosecuting Evil: The Extraordinary World of Ben Ferencz,” about the last surviving lead prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.
Streaming will be April 16-18. Those wishing to attend either program must register by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some events occurred ahead of Yom HaShoah.
On March 17, University of Arizona Hillel hosted two Holocaust survivors to share their survival stories over Zoom and hosted a vigil.
Zach Schlamowitz, a sophomore, was co-chair of the 30th annual Holocaust vigil. He said remembering the Holocaust is critical for all humanity — past, present and future.
“For those taken eight decades ago, we must remember to ensure their memories against a final death; for ourselves, we must remember precisely how such flagrant assaults on human rights evolved, to ensure our own ability to diagnose resurgences of anti-Semitism and xenophobia today; and, for those to come, we must remember to never lose hope that impregnable safety for our children’s children may one day be assured,” he said.
Michelle Blumenberg, executive director of the University of Arizona Hillel Foundation, said 29 students participated in the reading of names. Each student read names for 15 minutes, and about 12,600 names were read over the course of seven hours.
A PHA-affiliated group of third-generation descendants of Holocaust survivors called 3GAZ hosted a Zoom presentation March 25 about tracing Jewish family history despite the Holocaust.
Adena Astrowsky, founder of 3GAZ, said she and the other members organized this event because of their own interest in researching their family history.
About 30 people tuned in to hear genealogist Emily Garber, who is also Jewish. “In genealogy in general what we’re told to do is start with what we know, and then work backwards chronologically. And you can still do that with Holocaust records on our families,” she said. “More and more information is not only coming online but becoming available from many archives from Europe.”
Places like the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum are also now acquiring records from some European archives, she said, like the Arolsen Archives in Germany. And many records are free of cost.
For Garber, observing Yom HaShoah is important to help put life in perspective.
“When you destroy somebody’s life, you can’t destroy our memory of them, and it’s the memories that we’re trying to restore and carry on through the ages.” JN