MAHOPAC, N.Y. - Never forget.
That is the slogan for Yom Hashoah—Holocaust Remembrance Day—where the Jewish community reminds the world it cannot forget the tragic events of World War II so that it will never happen again.
Temple Beth Shalom in Mahopac marked Holocaust Remembrance Day on Sunday (April 8) with a memorial service and a viewing of the documentary film, “They Shall Not Perish,” which depicts the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century and how the U.S.—led by the Jewish community—stepped up to save countless numbers of orphans and refugees.
“Yom Hashoah always happens in the spring,” said Temple Beth Shalom Rabbi Sarah Freidson. “[Tonight] we will begin with a brief ceremony remembering the lives of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust. We will light six candles in memory of the 6 million.”
The film, “They Shall Not Perish,” describes the international efforts to help the victims of the Armenian genocide and the orphans, in particular.
“There are several tie-ins [of the Armenian genocide to the Holocaust],” Freidson said. “One of them is the role that the American Jewish community played in saving some of the refugees. Another tie-in is that when Hitler came to power about 25 years later, he said, who remembers the Armenians? The world will not protest [what the Nazis were doing].
“Now that many Holocaust survivors have passed away, there aren’t that many firsthand witnesses left,” she continued. “That being said, part of the Jewish community’s reaction to the Holocaust was ‘never again’—not just for the Jewish people, but never again against any group of people.”
Unfortunately, Freidson said, that hasn’t been the case.
“There has been ethnic cleansing and genocide in the world since Holocaust in places like in Rwanda and Cambodia and other places, as well,” she said. “Part of the Jewish community’s reaction is to stand up against that form of injustice. Judaism places a big emphasis on memory—memory that leads us to action. So, one of the things that we do is we remember those who perished, and it inspires us to ensure that that brutality and injustice is not perpetrated against others. This film shows the Jewish reaction [to genocide] well before Hitler’s Holocaust.”
Freidson said it’s an important lesson to learn and remember—especially with the passing of one generation to the next.
“When I was in rabbinical school, I led a trip of high schoolers to Eastern Europe to a lot of the Holocaust sites,” she said. “We went to the Warsaw Ghetto and to four different concentration camps, including Treblinka. We went to sites in the middle of the woods in Poland—wooded areas marked off because they were mass graves. We went to synagogues that were empty. It was gut-wrenching. I remember that the kids were like, ‘Why do we have to go to another synagogue museum?’ I told them, these are museums because the people worshipped here were all murdered. And they were like, ‘Wow.’ It was really powerful.”
Shant Mardirossian, a Katonah resident and executive producer of “They Shall Not Perish,” was on hand to discuss the film and take questions from the audience. His grandparents were survivors of the Armenian genocide and his paternal grandmother sought refuge in an American orphanage. He said that they were the inspiration for the film.
“Our communities have a lot in common when it comes to this tragedy, but we also have a lot in common when it comes to the strength and the power and the resiliency of our communities around the world,” he told the audience.
Mardirossian said that April is normally a time of festivity, with Passover and Easter and the coming of better weather, but noted that it is also Genocide Awareness Month.
“All the communities that have suffered genocide commemorate in the same month,” he said. “I thought about that—how can that be? April 24 is the day the Armenian genocide began. And this year, April 12 is Holocaust Remembrance Day. And the Rwanda genocide is also commemorated on April 7. I thought it was important for all our communities to come together to try and understand how these tragedies continue to occur. I wanted to use this opportunity…to link the two in some way. There were upstanders in the Jewish community [who helped with the Armenian genocide].”
The event was attended by area dignitaries and elected officials, including Carmel Supervisor Ken Schmitt, Councilwoman Suzi McDonough, Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy, Sheriff Robert Langley and state Assemblyman Kevin Byrne.
Tendy noted the importance of the film.
“It tells us so much about the history and the goodness of mankind and the evil of mankind,” he said. “Hopefully, this is a reminder of what we once were and what we can be again.”
Freidson said when she thinks about the Holocaust and genocide in general, she is thankful for living in America.
“I am always reminded of the gift we have living in this country to practice whatever religion we want and to remember the past and make sure it never happens again,” she said.