Seventy-five years ago on Monday, Soviet troops opened the gates of the largest and deadliest extermination camp of the Nazi regime.
On Sunday, communities from across New Haven commemorated the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau — a date established in 2005 as International Holocaust Remembrance Day — with a proclamation that hate has no home in the Elm City.
About 50 people paid their respects at New Haven’s Holocaust Memorial — the first built on public land in the United States at the behest of then-Mayor Frank Logue — and walked to Congregation Beth El-Keser Israel. There, a score of community leaders offered their remarks to a standing-room-only crowd of over 200. Mayor Justin Elicker and the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven organized the event. Elected officials present included the mayor; Alders Richard Furlow, Adam Marchand and Eli Sabin ’22; Sen. Richard Blumenthal and Rep. Rosa DeLauro, among others. The panel of speakers also featured faith leaders across religious traditions and the city’s police and fire chiefs.
“All of the American people must stand together to fight anti-Semitism,” Dean Rabbi Yosef Lustig of Yeshiva Beis Dovid Shlomo, a Jewish religious school, said at the event. “If it is not safe to be a Jew in a synagogue in America, it is not safe to be an American.”
Several speakers shared personal ties to the day’s commemoration. Lustig’s grandmother was among those liberated from Auschwitz-Birkenau on Jan. 27, 1945. Blumenthal told the story of his father, who fled persecution in Germany in 1935 and arrived alone in the United States at the age of 17 with few connections and no English abilities. Sabin credited his becoming one of only a few Jewish elected officials in New Haven to his family’s courage in escaping religious persecution in Eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.
Connecticut State Director for the Anti-Defamation League Steve Ginsburg told Sunday’s crowd that the ADL — which aims to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all” according to organization’s website — has trained over 1,000 Connecticut teachers in Holocaust education. In the past year, ADL representatives met with every social studies teacher in New Haven to strengthen the Elm City’s Holocaust curriculum. New Haven schools are required to teach the Holocaust per state law, as is the case in 10 other states across the country.
Despite these efforts, Ginsburg and others cautioned, anti-Semitism is on the rise. Last year, ADL representatives took students from Amity High School in Woodbridge to an Auschwitz exhibit in New York after students reported a culture of anti-Semitism at the school — one that included swastika graffiti, Holocaust jokes and pronouncements of Nazi loyalty in the halls.
Sabin noted that the tri-state area has seen a spike of hate crimes against Jews — a Hanukkah celebration stabbing in New York, a hate-motivated shooting in New Jersey, a swastika on the steps of Yale Law School. Sydney Perry, who headed the Jewish Federation and Jewish Community Center of Greater New Haven until 2016, said on Sunday that this rising tide of anti-Semitism marks “a dark time in our country and our world.”
In the face of this violence, Lustig said, Jewish people must be “prouder Jews” and respond by loving one another and Judaism with even greater passion. Leaders across faiths and backgrounds issued a universal call to action: to stand up for all those who fall victim to hatred and intolerance and to unlearn prejudice.
“When we are born, we are born with two fears,” Fire Chief John Alston said on Sunday. “The fear of falling and the fear of loud noises. Everything else we are taught.”
New Haven’s Holocaust Memorial holds the ashes of some of those who perished at Auschwitz-Birkenau.
Mackenzie Hawkins | firstname.lastname@example.org