Service message: Remember

Zachor, remember.

The words reverberated through Congregation Rodef Sholom late last month as Rabbi Lavey Derby began the Marin community's Yom HaShoah commemoration at the San Rafael synagogue.

"In our tradition we are obligated to remember," said the spiritual leader of Congregation Kol Shofar. "We remember all that has happened. We remember the sad and the tragic. We remember the beautiful and that which gives us hope. One thing we must always do is remember. That's why we gather here this evening to remember a time in Jewish life that was the darkest of all times."

"Remember" was the common chord not only of Derby's opening but of speeches, poems and songs that led up to the ritual passing of the Scroll of Remembrance. The scroll contains the names of family members of Marin residents who died in the Holocaust. It was passed between survivors and their relatives during an hour-and-a-half ceremony marked by tears.

The service also commemorated the 50th birthday of the state of Israel and the 60th anniversary of the Evian Conference, at which 32 countries attempted to address Germany's and Austria's refugee problem.

Holocaust survivors Ida Gelbart and C. Roy Calder, both of San Rafael, also spoke. Gelbart discussed the Evian Conference while Calder told of his 50-year search for his sister, whose fate is still unknown.

Recent letters from relatives have revealed that his sister Stephy was arrested with more than 70 other teenagers at a Jewish commune where she was living, unbeknownst to her family, during the war. With the help of German authorities, Calder was able to locate one man who escaped the arrest and managed to survive the war.

Calder found that the man had written a book about his wartime experience, devoting 100 pages to the time he spent at the commune. From the book, Calder learned about his sister's daily life there. But her fate remains a mystery.

"To this day, the fate of all 74 of these young Jewish people is unknown. But this was the time of the mass deportations to Auschwitz and we have to assume that this was the fate of Stephy and her colleagues," Calder said. "We ask you on this commemoration of Yom HaShoah to join with us in remembering our loved ones," he said, citing those whose deaths are recorded and those whose are not.

Said Gelbart, "This is a lesson in history, a base and most bitter one for us. But by remembering it we make sure it will not be repeated. But remembering it is not enough; we must teach it."

She shared some of the more interesting, and sometimes comical, details of the 1938 Evian Conference, organized by Franklin D. Roosevelt to find homes for the growing number of Jewish refugees. Of all the participating countries, Gelbart recounted, only the tiny Dominican Republic was willing to ease its immigration restrictions to accept more Jews. Most countries cited economic hardship as the primary reason they were unwilling to accept refugees. One country had a strict policy of requiring immigrants to have a certificate of baptism, and Ecuador claimed it "[did] not want any more intellectuals," Gelbart said.

The United States, she added, was represented at the conference not by governmental officials, but by businessmen.

"After the conference, the German government stated with great pleasure how astounding it was that foreign countries could spurn Germany for their treatment of the Jews, but none of them could open the doors to the grand opportunities afforded to themselves," Gelbart said.