Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, is a time when Jews over the world remember the six million Jews who died during World War II. It also honors the survivors, most of them elderly, whose numbers decrease every year.
Their testimony serves as a reminder of what they endured and is an attempt to prevent such atrocities from happening again.
The members of the Rockwood Park Jewish Center in Howard Beach held its Yom Hashoah service on Sunday afternoon. The program began with a moment of silence for the victims of the Holocaust.
Candle lighting was performed by Holocaust survivors Martin Braun, Jack Gruer, Julius Rafalowicz and Judy Berkowitz. The survivors lit six candles in memory of the Jews who were murdered during the Holocaust.
Welcoming remarks were made by Rockwood Park Jewish Center Rabbi Tzvi Berkowitz, whose mother, Judy Berkowitz, is a survivor.
Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park) said the memorial services are very important: “It really falls upon us and becomes our responsibility to keep their memories alive, to keep telling the stories that they have been telling for so long, so that we can speak out against injustices when we see them and crimes which violate the human dignity of every single person.”
Continuing, Ulrich added: “and we have an obligation to make sure that those crimes never happen again and that the people who are responsible are brought to justice.”
Queens Supreme Court Justice Augustus Agate told the audience that the Holocaust memorial services must continue so that history doesn’t repeat itself.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of living and part of the vigilance that we who live in a free society and want to keep it that way to ensure that the memories continue and get transferred down from generation to generation,” said Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton, who urged the audience not to let the Holocaust memories fade.
The guest speaker for the evening was Susan Somers, former senior prosecuting trial attorney at the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands, for the former Yugoslavia.
During her tenure from 1996 to 2007, she obtained convictions against five defendants from the Omarska concentration camp case in Bosnia; against two senior military officers for deaths, injury and destruction from the shelling of Dubrovnik’s Old Town in Croatia; and against two political and military leaders involved in a widespread and persecutory campaign in Central Bosnia.
Somers has been a public prosecutor in the United States for 14 years and discussed the legal legacy of the Nuremberg Trials.
She talked about some of the analogies between the Nuremberg trials and the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal at The Hague, Netherlands.
“Because of Nuremberg and the tenacious prosecutions there, we are able today to attempt to mitigate some of the principles of law by making it clear that impunity is no longer the byword,” she said.
Legal scholars have noted that after the Holocaust, the world was faced with a challenge: how to seek justice for an almost unimaginable scale of criminal behavior. The International Military Tribunal held at Nuremberg, Germany, attempted to broach the challenge on a legal basis.