In S.F., every victim has a name at Lincoln Park commemoration

While Cantor Martin Feldman of Congregation Sherith Israel led the gathering at Lincoln Park's Holocaust Memorial in a moving rendition of "Eli, Eli," Emil Knopf bent over a small table with six yahrzeit candles and tried to keep a match lit on this overcast, breezy San Francisco day. Each candle represented 1 million dead.

Finally, just when the sun broke through the clouds, he was able to pass a match to Zhenya Gulman, a survivor who wore a plum kerchief, babushka-style, over her snow-white hair. She managed to light one of the candles just before the match blew out.

The sight of the memorial's sprawled, sculpted figures on the ground, with blood-red fuchsias interspersed among the tangled bodies, transported some in the mostly elderly crowd back to the atrocities experienced in their youth.

Ken Colvin, a liberator of six camps, said, "Picture walking into six different camps, and what you first saw looks exactly like what you see on the ground here today."

The Yom HaShoah ceremony, titled "Unto Every Person There Is A Name," was held Sunday and sponsored by the Greater San Francisco unit No. 21 of B'nai B'rith. Community leaders, including Democratic Assemblyman Kevin Shelley of San Francisco and Mark Leno of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, joined local rabbis and cantors, including Rabbi Dorothy Richman of Congregation Beth Sholom, who sang Psalm 23. Participants said Kaddish several times, while the names of those murdered were read aloud.

The names were a combination of relatives of local Jewish families, almost all the murdered children and those who had died at Babi Yar 60 years ago on the outskirts of Kiev, according to Cantor Julius Blackman, who chaired a committee representing the numerous organizations that helped plan the event. "100,000 Jews were slaughtered in a ravine in Babi Yar, making it one of the largest single mass-murders in one time."

Both survivors and liberators shared their stories.

Most of those leaning over the wall, which stands above the George Segal memorial, were in their 70s and 80s, a fact that seemed to be a concern for many of the attendees.

"We are mostly in our mid-70s. We will only be here another 50 years," joked Ken Colvin. His face grew serious when he added, "I want our grandchildren to know this generation, and for us to be heard."

Martin Lyon, who remembers playing with a cap gun when the Nazis came to take his father away to Dachau, shared similar concerns.

"We can't let the revisionists win. We have to make sure our grandchildren know what happened," Lyon said.

A small group of B'nai B'rith Youth Organization girls attended, and clearly this day held great meaning for them.

Janet Yukhtman, one of the few young people in attendance and president of the San Francisco BBYO, said: "Yes, of course I feel sadness and anger. But I also feel happiness that there are survivors around still today."

While names were read and testimony given, several attendees approached others and spoke in their native tongues, hoping to find compatriots. Many were eager to tell their stories to those who would listen.

One such participant, Helene Klein of San Francisco, remembered the day from her childhood in Vienna when her family received a letter from the police demanding they report to the first train the next morning. Instead, they fled to Italy. "My father wanted to know later what happened to those on that first train out," Klein said, pulling her hounds-tooth coat close against the wind. "Not a single one survived. They took them out on boats on a lake and drowned them."

Cantor Henry Drejer, a survivor of six camps, told one of his stories of survival.

"I was upstairs in a loft, singing to my people. They pointed up at me and said, 'You there. You keep singing,' while they hauled people away. They killed 5,000 a day," he said.

One man, among the oldest in this gathering of mostly elderly, also needed to tell his story. He appeared as if cut out of a 1940s photo, dressed dapperly in a pinstriped suit and a brimmed hat. Approaching a woman in the crowd, he spoke to her in a loud, clear voice in an indiscernible tongue. The man's intense blue eyes locked into the woman's and she nodded, not understanding the words, but acknowledging the testament. She asked him several times what language he was speaking, could not understand his answer, but she kept listening anyway.