Memorials flowers, candlelight contrast with Hitlers brutality

Spring bouquets adorned a Sonoma State University stage on Sunday as six women who survived Hitler's reign each lit a candle for each of the 6 million.

White calla lilies and pink daisies at the Yom HaShoah, or Holocaust Memorial Day, observance symbolized the theme of the day — hope. The flowers contrasted with the twisted black wrought iron of the Holocaust menorah and the stolen spring seasons of each of the Sonoma County survivors:

Ruth Gumpel survived the last two years of World War II by hiding in Berlin.

Lillian Judd survived a Czechoslovakian ghetto, the death camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen, and a death march.

Ann Weinstock survived Bergen-Belsen.

Estelle Klipp survived Auschwitz and camps at Hamburg, Sassel and Bergen-Belsen.

Hella Margolin survived the ghetto at Lodz and years of slave labor.

Ida Piotrkowski survived the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz.

Michael Berkes survived slave-labor camps in Romania and lost his entire family except his parents in the death camps. He lit a seventh candle, a separate candle in a cut-glass candlestick holder, as a tribute to the millions of others who perished.

The program moderator, Bob Raful of Santa Rosa, said a rabbi recently told his wife, Susy, a death-camp survivor, that the fact that she married and had children proved she had hope. He said the seven candlelighters expressed similar hope.

"Recognizing that arrogance and hate still stalk the world, in the words of the Israeli national anthem, we must keep alive the hope," Raful told the crowd of about 175 people, many of them men and women who had lived through the Nazi era.

The Rev. Douglas K. Huneke, pastor of Tiburon's Westminster Presbyterian Church, talked about the writings of Elie Wiesel and how they haunted a University of Oregon student. The student had asked the concentration camp survivor and literary voice for Holocaust victims how he could have had a child. Wiesel answered that he became a parent in part because he could not allow only the killers to have children.

"There is a fragile measure of hope that sustains the survivors, the rescuers, the students of the Holocaust," Huneke said. "It is the absolute contradiction of even the possibility of hope. And yet we are tempted to hope."

Huneke has published two books about the Second World War, "The Moses of Rovno: The True Story of a German Christian Who Rescued Jews During the Holocaust," and "The Stones Will Cry Out: Pastoral Reflections on The Shoah." He is finishing a biography of a teenage rescuer.

"It is at once a simple and a terrible equation," he said. "We have hope in spite of and because of the Shoah. We have hope — even a fragile little thread of it — because we cannot give Hitler the last word.

"I have learned first and always from the survivors and then from the rescuers, the resisters and the liberators that hope is eternally justified. Listen to their stories, and you will find a hope that is stronger than gas chambers."

Logan Guttenberg, a 15-year-old who lives in Santa Rosa, has listened to the stories of a handful of survivors in his synagogue, Conservative Congregation Beth Ami. He came Sunday to collect a $500 prize for an essay he wrote about the Holocaust.

The prize money came from Bob and Susy Raful's sons. They established an essay-writing contest in honor of their mother's 75th birthday to try to preserve the story of her struggle in Budapest, a death march, her illness and wounds, so that future generations will remember Susy Raful and, through her, the history of the Shoah.

"We would dishonor the memory of those who perished if we were not vigilant to make sure that things that occurred 50 years ago do not occur today," said the oldest son, Bruce Raful of San Anselmo. "When my brother and I thought about a way to honor my mother, we thought it would be good to involve the youth in our community in an event they only will read about in history books.

"We hope the young people who write these essays will live in peace forever but will never forget what their ancestors endured."

Guttenberg, a young man in a sea of his elders, wearing a black suit, read part of his winning essay. "The Holocaust is a blight on the honor of mankind," he read. "It is a stain, which will not clean and cannot be forgotten.

"More people than any one of us will meet in our entire lives died. It is beyond our ability even to imagine. We must, and will, however, learn enough to teach our children to understand so that they may teach their children . . ."

Singer Fredi Bloom of Fairfax brought the audience back to the past with a haunting Yiddish rendition of "Eli, Eli." The song asks, "God, why have you forsaken me?" She followed with the more well-known version by poet Hannah Senesh and composer David Zahavi, sung in Hebrew and in English.