San Jose-area Jews dedicate Shoah wall

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A bronze tablet in the center of a wall in Los Gatos presents a tableau of Jewish men, women and children marching.

It also shows an outstretched arm with the telltale number tattooed on it, and a Star of David. Also depicted on the wall is a synagogue, one of many destroyed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht.

A riveting memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in concentration camps was dedicated Sunday, Oct. 19 at the Addison-Penzak Jewish Community Center of Greater San Jose in Los Gatos.

The 12-by-12-foot wall was designed by architect Stan Field, who lost most of his family to the Nazis in Riga, Latvia. During the 12 years he lived in Israel, Field designed many synagogues, and he volunteered his efforts for this memorial over the course of three years.

The number tattooed on the arm — 182793 — was that of the late Richard Hirsch, one of the prime movers of the memorial project. Hirsch died in July.

The dedication was attended by an overflow crowd of some 350, including many survivors and their families. Also present were six members of the famed 442nd U.S. infantry division that liberated Dachau.

The all-Japanese 442nd was the most decorated unit of the U.S. armed forces in World War II.

The keynote speaker at the dedication was Rep. Tom Campbell (R-Campbell). Other speakers included survivors Jack Trameil and Joe Sorger, and Los Altos resident George Inoye, who served in the 552nd Battalion of the 442nd infantry.

Trameil, a member of the South Bay Holocaust Memorial Dedication Committee, which sponsored the event, was 10 years old in November 1939 and living with his parents in Lodz, Poland, when the Nazis forcibly moved all of that city's 250,000 Jews to the ghetto. Lodz became a transit place for all Jews of Europe en route to Auschwitz and the other camps.

"My father and I were at one camp and my mother was at another. I lost track of my mother for a while, but we were reunited after the war. She's alive — and here today," he said.

His father died at Auschwitz, but Trameil, weighing only 70 pounds at the time, was rescued by a U.S. Army unit. With his wife, Helen, whom he met at Bergen-Belsen, he came to this country in 1947.

"I've built a good life here," he said. "We have three sons and five grandchildren, but I realized we have to remember the 6 million who died."

Trameil and Hirsch, who were among the founders of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, were also major financial supporters of the Los Gatos memorial wall.

"I'm sorry Richard is not here today to see the fruits of his labor," Trameil said.

Hirsch's widow, Vera, and his son Gordon participated in the program. Gordon Hirsch said that for years his father refused to discuss his concentration camp experience or the meaning of the tattooed number on his arm.

"It's just a lucky number," Richard Hirsch used to say.

But years later, Gordon noted, his father spoke openly about the camps and the number.

Campbell said he sees "a need for memorials like this one. Many of the survivors will not be here in a few years to tell their stories."

He said it is regrettable that there are still important leaders throughout the world who deny the Holocaust.

"They deny its existence or the degree of death and destruction and deny the levels of responsibility. There is still an absence of explanation, they contend; what we're told is so horrible it simply can't be true.

"Memorials such as the one we're dedicating today prove they were true; they did happen," Campbell said. "Despite the denials, the Holocaust is the most documented tragedy in history, with millions of documents testifying to what took place."

Co-chairs of the South Bay Holocaust Memorial Dedication Committee were Ruth Brill and Joe Sorger.

Sponsoring organizations included the South Bay Holocaust Group, Jewish Federation of Greater San Jose, Jewish Community Relations Council, National Conference of Christians and Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and Yavneh Day School.