By Gwynne Robins
This year, we were unable to meet at the cemetery to mourn the deaths of six million Jewish men, women and children for reasons of public health and fear.
Fear of crowds, fear of socialising, fear of going out in case we are invaded by an invisible virus. Instead, the Cape SAJBD commemorated the event with three short videoed vignettes, produced by Chad Nathan, covering most of the elements in our traditional ceremony.
If our ancestors had not managed to reach South Africa before the Immigration Quota Act in 1930 stopped their arrival, many of us whose ancestors had come from Eastern Europe would not be here today. This is because eighty years ago, in the summer of 1941, their friends and family who had remained behind would have been killed by the Einsatzkommandos. By the time Germany surrendered in 1945, 95% of the 237 500 Lithuanian Jews had been murdered, nearly all of the 70 000 Jews living in Latvia in 1941, and 90% of the Rhodes Island community.
Our first video focused on what the Holocaust means to our youth. As it says in the Tanach (Joel (1.3): “Tell your children of it and let your children tell their children and their children another generation.” We filmed the learners at Cape Town Torah High School situated in the Ponovez Shul — nearly all the Ponovez Jews were killed in 1941. Amber-Lee Bobrow, Rika Wineberg and Musya Deren from Torah High and Kirstin Kukard and Cheryl van den Berg from the Herzlia High School explained what the Holocaust meant to them, while learners from the Herzlia Junior High SLC recited a poem, and representatives from Habonim Dror, SAUJS, Bnei Akiva and Netzer read out names of murdered children. There were songs from the Herzlia Vocal Ensemble under the baton of Ivor Joffe and from Benji Anstey, accompanied by Gabriel Sieff on the piano.
In another video, our chairman Tzvi Brivik and the Israeli Ambassador Lior Keinan delivered messages about the day, focusing on the murders of the Lithuanian and Latvian Jews in 1941. The highlight was a talk by Zola Shuman, whose parents were both survivors from the Vilna ghetto and labour camps. Her mother Chayele Rosenthal was known as the “nightingale of the ghetto” and her uncle who died the day before liberation was a talented songwriter, whose popular songs are still sung. The film ended with Cantor Choni Goldman from the Gardens Synagogue singing the hazkarah.
Our final vignette focused on Music and the Shoah, a story of song to survive and uplift, with a pre-War Russian song by balalaika player Dusia Borodoff from Riga Latvia — most of her family were killed in Auschwitz. Her son Gary Silberman has committed her beautiful music onto CD in her memory. Other songs were by Caely-Jo Levy, a singer, songwriter, actress and choreographer with a passion for klezmer music, and by Cantor Goldman. There was a Yiddish poem written in the Vilna Ghetto by Avrom Sutzkever, which was recited by Dr Veronica Belling, and a Ladino poem written and recited by Isaac Habib. His mother was one of the 1767 Jews from Rhodes Island and Cos who were deported to Auschwitz. Only 163 survived. The video ended with a plaintive song by saxophonist-composer Rus Nerwich.
In Deuteronomy 4:9, we are told to “guard ourselves carefully, lest we forget the things our eyes saw, and lest these things depart from our hearts all the days of our lives.” It adds that “you shall make them known to your children and your children’s children”. The Cape SA Jewish Board of Deputies does this each year in honour of our people who were killed in the Holocaust and thanks to our youth, that memory is being guarded and carried forward.
• Published in the print edition of the May 2021 issue. Download the May 2021 issue PDF here.
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