Touching memorial brings sad stories of statues to life

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But Sunday of last week, a group broke the silence by reading the names of hundreds of victims of the Holocaust in a Yom HaShoah program sponsored by B'nai B'rith International.

One by one, as participants read names of survivors, their voices mingled with the chirping of birds and the murmur of hikers walking nearby, seemingly transforming the statues from statistics into people.

"Among the 6 million victims of the Holocaust, there were 6 million names that each stood for something — for character, for the love they had for their husbands, wives, children," said Rabbi Jacob Traub of San Francisco's Congregation Adath Israel.

The program was coordinated locally by the three B'nai B'rith Lodges in San Francisco and is held annually at the Holocaust Memorial in Lincoln Park. Every year for Yom HaShoah, BBI provides different lists of Holocaust victims to similar groups around the world, so that each of the victim's names — every known victim — is read out loud and remembered.

"We are reminded that each person lost in the Holocaust was a unique individual, that each number had a name," said Irving Abromowitz, a B'nai B'rith member and the memorial's presiding officer, as he read the poem that inspired the program, "Unto Every Person There is a Name."

Woven among the names being read were speeches, poems, prayers and a candlelighting ceremony. Speakers included Holocaust survivors, members of the Bay Area's Jewish community and the community at large.

"It is important to stop hate and violence at the beginning, when we see it happening to any of our citizens," said San Francisco district attorney Terrence Hallinan, who read from Anne Frank's diary.

Reda Mansour, assistant consul for the S.F.-based Israeli Consulate of the Pacific Northwest, spoke about how the Holocaust and its victims are remembered every day in Israel, through the country's history, the names of streets and on Yom HaShoah, a national holiday.

Kaddish and other prayers were recited by Rabbi Abraham Sultan of San Francisco's Congregation Chevra Thilim, Cantor Martin Feldman of San Francisco's Congregation Sherith Israel and others.

Gloria Lyon, a concentration camp survivor and one of the speakers, rolled up her sleeve to reveal the number tattooed on her arm.

"Once we arrived in Auschwitz, we didn't have a name, we became just a number," she said.

"What we are saying to the Nazis is that we claim these people's souls. They claimed only their bodies. That is why what we are doing today is so important," said Rabbi Alan Lew of San Francisco's Congregation Beth Sholom.

Other survivors recounted their experiences. Several spoke in Yiddish. Some told of witnessing the deaths of their families and communities. Daniel Goldberg, who left his small town in Latvia before the war, talked about researching the whereabouts of some of his friends, only to find out that every member of his town's Jewish community had perished in the camps.

During a brief candlelighting ceremony, four survivors stepped carefully into the space where the plaster figures lay. They lit yahrzeit candles, shielding the flames from the light breeze with glass protectors. People recited Kaddish.

The candles burned, and the sound of names being read floated up around the white plaster figures and into the cloudless sky.