“The Responsibility to Speak Out” was the theme for the Georgia Commission on the Holocaust’s 2020 Days of Remembrance event. The annual program honors Holocaust survivors and liberators, a distinguished educator and the recipients of the Student Community Service awards.
This year the event was scheduled to take place in the chambers of the Georgia House of Representatives April 24 as it has for the two previous years, but was canceled because of public health restrictions. Instead, full text of written remarks, along with the stories and biographies of this year’s honorees can be found at https://holocaust.georgia.gov/2020-DOR.
Addressing this year’s theme, Israel Consul General Anat Sultan-Dadon, wrote: “The Nazis and their collaborators were, to a large extent, enabled and empowered by all those who stood by, without speaking out against the hate, the persecution and the ultimate murder of six million men, women and children.”
Each year, the Days of Remembrance program honors the memory of the 6 million Jews who perished during the Holocaust with six candle lighters – survivors, liberators or their families whose individual stories are told. While the public ceremony wasn’t held, the Georgia Holocaust Commission nonetheless honors the 2020 candle lighters:
Warren Alifeld, an only child who grew up in New York and West Virginia, was 18 years old before he discovered he had been born Werner Schiff in Frankfurt, Germany, and sent to the United States to adoptive parents in 1938 at the age of 2. This selfless act by his birth mother, who later perished along with most of her family in the Holocaust, saved Warren’s life.
Ruth Heinemann and her sister survived the war after the devastation of Kristallnacht, when their mother sent them via the British Kindertransport program to live safely with a family in England for six years, eventually reuniting with surviving family members.
Girsch Kuklya, born in Riga, Latvia, represents many from Russia whose stories of Holocaust survival are not as well known. After enduring crowded ghetto conditions in the Riga Ghetto, Girsch, along with his mother and grandmother fled to relative safety 1,500 miles to central Asia. There Girsch, just a teenager, worked 10- to 12-hour days on a farm with little food and protection until they could safely return to Riga three years later in 1944.
Ilse Eichner Reiner was just a few months short of her 12th birthday when she was deported to the Terezin concentration camp. Both her parents had already been imprisoned after the Nazis invaded their home country of Czechoslovakia. Because of her bravery and determination, Ilse survived not only Terezin, but Auschwitz, where she lied about her age, telling the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele that she was 18 years old.
Blima and Abraham Silverman were a young couple that left Poland to begin a new life in Antwerp, Belgium, in the 1930s. In 1942, after the Nazi invasion of Belgium, Abie was deported and sent to forced labor in a Belgian camp. Then, on his way to Auschwitz, Abie made a daring escape from the train. Though exhausted and nearly depleted of hope, Abie miraculously reunited with Blima on the streets of Antwerp where they were able to hide for the remainder of the war.
The recipient of the 2020 Distinguished Educator award is Gordon Mathis, history teacher and head of community engagement at The Galloway School. The Distinguished Educator award is given to a full-time Georgia educator who demonstrates excellence and creativity in teaching focused on the Holocaust, human rights, civic rights or character development.
The Days of Remembrance event also recognizes student leaders. The 2020 Student Community Service winners are:
1st place – Clare Seymour, Marist School
2nd place – Asmita Jaiswal, Druid Hills High School
3rd place – George Tian, Lambert High School
1st place – Lainey Weissman, Autrey Mill Middle School
2nd place – Anya Surani, River Trail Middle School
3rd place – Elijah Metellus, Marietta Middle School
Sally Levine, executive director of the Georgia Holocaust Commission, recalled the recent 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz killing camps and the critical importance of remembering. “During these unprecedented times, we still have the obligation and responsibility to remember and honor the victims, survivors and liberators of the Holocaust, and to confront the challenges still before us. On this anniversary, with the last eyewitnesses in their twilight years, the responsibility to witness falls to us. Elie Wiesel said, ‘To hear a witness, is to become a witness, oneself.’”
- Georgia Commission on the Holocaust
- Days of Remembrance
- The Responsibility to Speak Out
- Anat Sultan-Dadon
- Israel Consul General
- Warren Alifeld
- Ruth Heinemann
- Girsch Kuklya
- Ilse Eichner Reiner
- Blima and Abraham Silverman
- Gordon Mathis
- The Galloway School
- Clare Seymour
- Asmita Jaiswal
- George Tian
- Lainey Weissman
- Anya Surani
- Elijah Metellus