Virtual Ceremony Recalls Horrors, Heroism of Holocaust

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Brooke Zelwin lights a memorial candle. Screenshot

Article reprinted with permission from Cleveland Jewish News


Resilience and survival were themes of Yom Hashoah V’hagvurah, Cleveland’s commemoration of the Holocaust and Heroism on April 20.

The annual celebration, coordinated by the Kol Israel Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, was scheduled to take place in the sanctuary of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood.

However, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event changed to a virtual format, with participants asked to light candles at home, and Fairmount Temple Rabbi Joshua L. Caruso stood before a virtual backdrop of the sanctuary from which to chant El Malei Rachamim, the memorial prayer for Holocaust victims, and to lead the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish.

People gathered in front of 340 telephones and computers to observe the remembrance. Participants were from Columbus, West Bloomfield, Mich., as well as Greater Cleveland.

Hosted by Joshua Kramer, Jewish Federation of Cleveland Young Leadership Division member and a board member of Kol Israel Foundation, and Brooke Zelwin, Yom Hashoah committee co-chair at Kol Israel, the event lasted about bout 30 minutes.

Kramer and Zelwin introduced the program.

Zelwin announced the five winners of the visual arts awards. This year’s theme, she said, was “75 years since liberation: what we learned.” She said there were nearly 25 entries from about a dozen middle schools and high schools.

“Each year this contest has been a way from middle school and high school students to learn about the Holocaust through art,” Zelwin said. “The Holocaust was the state-sponsored systematic persecution and annihilation of European Jewry by the Nazis and their collaborators between 1933 and 1945,” Kramer said. “Six million Jews were murdered. Millions more were also targeted for persecution and murder during the Holocaust simply because of who they were and their beliefs, including Roma, people of various disabilities, Polish people, homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, prisoners of war and political dissidents. Today, the threats of anti-Semitism and hate are still looming large in society. Recently, these threats have grown even larger.”

He spoke of the missions and commitments of both the Federation and Kol Israel toward education and bridge building across Greater Cleveland.

An air raid siren sounded for about a minute.

Quoting Deborah Lipstadt, Dorot Professor of Holocaust Studies at Emory University in Atlanta, Caruso spoke about the importance of Jewish identity being built, not on victimhood, but on what Jews do.

“Yes, our identity is built on what Jews do, not what was done to us,” he said, referencing the response of Jews within the synagogue in Halle, Germany, on Yom Kippur in 2019, which came under attack by a neo-Nazi. “As you know by now, the only thing that saved them was a reinforced door and security personnel funded by our own Federation. After the attack, those very same Jews finished their prayers and celebrated the conclusion of Yom Kippur with a well deserved break fast and even dancing.”

Caruso said it Is important to remember both the events of the Holocaust and “how we rose up from the ashes, how we formed a Jewish nation state so we could exercise agency in this world.”

The webinar then cut to a man seated at a table.

“My name Is Michael Pupa, and I am a survivor,” said the Oresident, who was born Aug. 20, 1938, in the village of Maniewicz, Poland. He gave a brief account of his survival during the Holocaust in the forest, his arrival in Berlin immediately after World War II and his voyage to the United States by plane.

His story was chronicled in the 2012 exhibit, “Attachments: Faces and Stories from America’s Gates,” by the U.S. National Archives.

“In December of 1942 the Germans invaded my village and rounded up the Jews,” Pupa said. “Some were executed including my parents and baby sister. Others were shipped off to concentration camps, and a few others, including me and my uncle, were able to flee into the woods.”

The two hid for three years; part of the time he hid in the barn of a Polish farmer but most of the time in the woods.

“When the war was over in 1945, my uncle and I were smuggled into Berlin, Germany,” he said. “Since it was illegal to enter Germany, we were hidden under furniture in a truck. While some of my memories are hazy for me, I clearly remember entering Berlin. It was total rubble.”

He and his uncle made it to the American zone of Berlin and connected with the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration where they were placed in a displaced persons camp. He was later placed in a children’s camp for 6 months.

Traveling alone, he flew to the United States alone on May 1, 1951, from Munich to Iceland, then Iceland to Canada and Canada to New York City. He was 13 years old.

“I didn't speak English. I didn’t come with any relatives, and I didn’t have any money,” Pupa said. “I was placed in a children’s home.”

Six months later, he was asked to choose another city to live in. He chose Cleveland, at his social worker’s recommendation.

He became a ward of the Jewish Children’s Bureau, now Bellefaire JCB. and placed in two different foster homes.

“I was a very independent person and I lived on my own for several months,” including at the YMCA at East 22nd Street and Prospect Avenue in downtown Cleveland.

The authorities offered him a choice: be placed at another foster home or be deported to his place of origin.

“There was no way I was going to go back to Europe,” he said, and he was placed in yet another foster home, with Bernice and Edward Rosenthal and their biological children Allyne and Cheryl. where he was accepted as family and stayed until he graduated from John Carroll University.

He became a U.S. citizen in 1957.

A video was shown about Kol Israel Foundation’s work.

As Caruso recited the Mourner’s Kaddish, he left space several times following the Hebrew v’imru for particpants to say, “amen.”. Zelwin offered the following closing words following the lighting of yartzeit candles.

“As we light this candle, we vow never to forget the memory of Jewish women, men and children who are symbolized by this flame,” she said. “They were tortured and brutalized by human beings who acted like beasts. Their lives were. taken in cruelty. May we be inspired to learn more about our six million brothers and sisters as individuals and as communities, to recall their memory throughout the year so they will not suffer a double death. May we recall not only the terror of their deaths but also the splendor of their lives. May their memory inspire us to live meaningful Jewish lives so we that may help to ensure that part of who they were shall endure always.”

2020 Yom Hashoah ‘Hagvurah
Cleveland’s commemoration of the Holocaust & Heroism
Visual Arts Awards

High School

  • 1st Place: “Speak Your Truth” by Claire Kapitan, 12th grade, St. Joseph Academy in Cleveland; teacher, Tammy Sparks
  • 2nd Place: “Keeping the Faithful” by Emilee York, 11th grade, St. Joseph Academy; teacher, Tammy Sparks
  • 3rd Place: “The Journey Toward Liberation” by Catherine Egan, 12th grade, St. Joseph Academy; teacher, Tammy Sparks

Middle School

  • 1st Place:“The Mirror of Life” by Isabelle McClung of Solon, sixth grade, The Temple-Tifereth Israel Sunday school, Beachwood
  • 2nd Place: Hope” by Maureen Brown, 8th grade, North Canton Middle School; teacher, Gary Moody

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