When Rose Rosenkranz first visited Auschwitz, the former Nazi extermination camp where as many as 1 million Jews were murdered, she said she heard the voice of her grandmother, who was among those who died there along with her two young children.
“She said, ‘Speak for me and my two babies. I no longer have a voice. You must be my voice.’”
Rosenkranz, of Palm Beach, is regional director for March of the Living, an educational program that brings people to Poland and Israel to study the history of the Holocaust. Her parents were natives of Poland but spent five years in a slave labor camp in Siberia, where she was born. A specialist in Holocaust studies, she is a lecturer and activist.
She said that of all her parents’ relatives, only four survived the mass murders carried out by the Nazi regime during World War II, in which more than 6 million Jews died. The family was left with few possessions, and the only memento left in their former home was her grandfather’s kiddush cup, used ceremonially at the beginning of the Jewish sabbath and holidays.
Rosenkranz said after her family emigrated to the United States in 1949, she questioned God.
“Through my tears, I would ask God, why do my friends have grandmas and grandpas? Why are there only four of us at Shabbat, at seders, at holidays? The number 6 million to me is my grandparents, my aunts, my uncles, my cousins, over and over and over again. After years of doubting the existence of God, I realized that the question I should be asking is, how could civilized people do this to each other? The Shoah occurred because individuals, organizations and governments made choices that fostered hate, legalized discrimination and ultimately allowed mass murder to happen,” she said.
Rosenkranz described how she was able to come to grips with the tragedy of the Holocaust through her involvement with March of the Living and visits to the sites of the death camps and to Israel. The program is aimed particularly at teenagers.
“We take teens to Poland not to teach them to hate but to teach them what hate can do,” she said.
During the service, seven candles were lit, some in memory of the ones who were murdered but others in honor of those who sheltered Jews, resisted the Nazis or liberated the death camps. Another candle was lit in memory of victims of hatred and violence, including the shooting at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, that left 50 dead and the suicide attacks against Christian churches in Colombo, Sri Lanka, on Easter Sunday that killed more than 250 people.
Rabbi David Goldstein of Temple Emanuel invited students, including many from All Saints Academy, attending the service to come forward and light the final candle.
“This is a candle of hope for a better future. You are the future,” he said.
Hanging over Wednesday’s service were two recent shootings at Jewish synagogues. An attack at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October killed 11 people and wounded seven. It was the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, carried out by a man who espoused white supremacist views. Last week, a similar attack at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., left one person dead and several wounded.
The annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents by the Anti-Defamation League, released Tuesday, found that in 2018, there were 1,879 incidents of harassment, vandalism and assault against Jews in the United States, the third-highest number of incidents since the ADL began producing the audit in 1979. That figure was down 5 percent from 2017 but up 48 percent from 2016 and approximately double the number of incidents in 2015. The audit found that 59 Jewish individuals were victims of religious-based assault in 2018.
“The Shoah started with words, not ovens. Words have had dangerous consequences for me, my family and the Jewish people,” she said.
Before Goldstein concluded the service by reciting a special prayer of mourning for the dead, he emphasized the importance of resisting words and actions that could incite violence.
“This is not a political issue, it’s a human issue. Thankfully, more and more people understand they cannot remain silent and are speaking out,” he said.