The 58th annual service of Holocaust remembrance at Greenwood Cemetery on April 16 was a multi-generational observance. Speakers included Sen. Jon Ossoff, who, at the age of 36, is the youngest senator in Congress, and Ilse Eichenr Reiner, a 93-year-old survivor of the Holocaust.
Ossoff, who is also the first Jewish senator to be elected from the South since 1879, recalled how his great-grandparents came to America to escape persecution in Eastern Europe in 1911 and 1913. They left behind numerous other family members, many of whom were not so fortunate and later perished in the Nazi death camps. He remembered as a child tracing his hand along the numbers on his uncle’s arm as he talked of how he, alone, of his family, had survived.
Speaking before the roughly hewn stones of the Memorial to the Six Million that has been built in the cemetery, Ossoff renewed his commitment to remain alert in these challenging times.
“The rising tide of antisemitism and hate demonstrates just how far we have to go and how we must be ever vigilant and always prepared,” Ossoff said. “And so, among the members of both parties and in both houses of Congress who lead the Joint Task Force on antisemitism, I will remain vigilant and committed on behalf of Jews in Georgia and across the country and around the world.”
Speaking directly to the crowd and without notes, Ossoff said he was particularly moved by the voices of young children he had heard that morning. Ossoff, who became a father for the first time just six months ago, mentioned how those voices were particularly moving to him.
“I think you all know why it’s so powerful to hear the sound of a child at an event like this one. Because even though an effort was made on an industrial scale with unfathomable brutality and will to extinguish our people, that effort failed. And we continue to live, and we continue to thrive in the sound of a child.”
Indeed children, particularly the direct descendants of Holocaust survivors, were involved in the service. Eleven children, each carrying a large sunflower, placed the flowers on the outsized concrete slab at the memorial, as a sign of hope for the future. Just above the slab is a weathered bronze plaque that mentions the memorial as the final resting place of the ashes taken from the mass grave of Jews murdered at the concentration camp in Dachau, Germany. The plaque reads, “May their memory be enshrined forever.”
Nearby, another bronze plaque memorializes the uprising by Jews against their Nazi oppressors in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 and singles out all those who died resisting the crimes of the Holocaust. This year’s service marks the 80th anniversary of that uprising, which eventually saw 56,000 Jewish inmates of the ghetto either murdered or sent to the Auschwitz death camp, which was also in Poland. Israel’s Consul General to the Southeast, Anat Sultan-Dadon, mentioned that the uprising was only one of many acts of heroism by Jews.
“The scope of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust in all of its forms has created a Jewish legacy for generations. It highlights the power of the human spirit that which the Nazis and their collaborators could not erase.”
The scope of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust in all of its forms has created a Jewish legacy for generations. It highlights the power of the human spirit that which the Nazis and their collaborators could not erase.
One survivor, Ilse Eichner Reiner, was only nine years old when the Germans invaded her native Czechoslovakia in 1938. She is just one of only about 330 Holocaust survivors in the Southeast who are aided by Atlanta’s Jewish Federation. She spent her most formative years living in the shadow of the German occupation and one of the few children to survive imprisonment at Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, and a death march in the final weeks of World War II. She married an American GI after the war, and her two children introduced her to the Greenwood audience, where she recounted her harrowing experiences.
Reiner, who mentioned that she was frequently bewildered as a young person surrounded by such enormous evil, credits her inherent optimism for helping her to survive.
“What helped me to get through all this was hope. And I would say to everyone, ‘you must never, never, ever give up hope. Because without that, you are doomed.’ And I didn’t say, ‘if I survive, I’ll do this or that.’ I would say ‘when I survive. I always thought of happier times in my life.’ In my case, I was uplifted a lot by my Jewish faith and by my Jewish memories.”
The Sunday morning memorial service was sponsored by Eternal Life-Hemshech, an organization composed of Holocaust survivors and their descendants, the Breman Jewish Heritage Museum and its Center for Holocaust Education, and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.
- Bob Bahr
- Holocaust Remembrance
- Greenwood Cemetery
- Sen. Jon Ossoff
- lse Eichenr Reiner
- Memorial to the Six Million
- Warsaw Ghetto
- Consul General to the Southeast
- Anat Sultan-Dadon
- World War II
- Eternal Life Hemshech
- Breman Jewish Heritage Museum
- Center for Holocaust Education