YORKTOWN, N.Y. – It was a powerful and emotional evening at Yorktown’s Temple Beth Am on Thursday, April 12, for its annual Yom HaShoah Service, which commemorates the 6 million lives lost in the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
“This was an extension of how we make sure that the Shoah, the Holocaust, never happens again,” said Rabbi Robert Weiner, the spiritual leader at Temple Beth Am. “The goal of the evening is not only to command us to say, ‘We will not let this happen to the Jewish people,’ it incites us to say we do not want this to happen to any people anywhere.”
The night began with a candle-lighting ceremony and a passionate musical performance of a song with the lyrics taken from a poem written by a prisoner of the Terezin concentration camp. In between performances of the song, many young people stood up and read additional poems from Terezin.
Much the evening’s service was devoted to a presentation by Joan Poulin, a member of Temple Beth Am. For more than 30 minutes, Poulin held everyone in rapt attention as she relayed the story of her father, Werner Satz, a Holocaust survivor.
“I am the first to break the silence and tell my father’s story,” she said. “How would you feel if everyone in your country hated you because of your family’s religion? Suppose your country made a law that said you were no longer a citizen, and took away your rights just because of your family’s religion?”
Not a sound could be heard throughout the temple as Poulin told them about Werner, who was living a comfortable life with his family in an upscale Hamburg neighborhood when the Nazi regime took hold. Although he managed to escape in 1938, his family remained behind and perished in the concentration camps. For years, Poulin’s father never spoke of his experiences in Nazi Germany and she knew to never ask questions about his past.
“This silence was resounding,” she said of her father’s unwillingness to speak. “Experiencing it felt louder than any words I had ever heard.”
It was only in the wake of her father’s passing that she uncovered more than 170 letters, exchanges between Poulin’s father and his brother and mother. As she began having the letters translated, her father’s story began to come out.
“I actually thought to myself, ‘What am I going to do with it?’ ” she said. “And God works in mysterious ways and I met the executive director of the Holocaust and Human Rights Education Center at a lunch. I told her about it and she said, ‘I have the perfect thing. We have a story-keeping class, and you should join it!’ ”
As she began to share her father’s experiences, Poulin realized that she was meant to bring his tale to as many people as possible. To date, she has spoken at the Chappaqua Middle School and the Greenwich Reform Synagogue.
“Wherever people want me to speak, I will be happy to speak,” she said. “Because it’s not just about the Holocaust, it’s about making people understand that bigotry does not belong anywhere, and this is what happens if you let it rule you.”